It's hard to get unanimous support for just about anything on the Internet, but it's hard to imagine getting much closer than the widespread outpouring of love and excitement for the news that legendary sideline reporter Craig Sager would make a one-time only trip down the dial from his longtime home at TNT to join ESPN's broadcast crew for Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, marking the first time in his illustrious career that he's ever worked an NBA Finals game.
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The 64-year-old broadcast veteran was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2014, and has gone through multiple courses of treatment that have kept him off the air for stretches. Sager has continued fighting, though, even after revealing in a March interview with HBO that his leukemia was no longer in remission.
Undaunted, he continued to work, juggling treatment through clinical trials, travel and broadcasting responsibilities, and appearing as part of TNT's postseason coverage through the Western Conference finals with the support of his colleagues, his family and an NBA community that has opened its heart to him over the years. That community extended across networks, as detailed by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated:
During the NBA’s Western Conference Finals, which were aired by Turner Sports, Sager learned that ESPN executives were interested in having him be on the sidelines for one of the games of the NBA Finals, an event the longtime sideline reporter had never worked. In a nice bit of corporate thinking between two NBA television partners, Turner Sports vice president of talent services Tara August called Sager after Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals to ask if he’d be interested in working with the ESPN group.
Said Sager: “Would I be interested? My God, of course! But I didn’t want to step on anyone toes, and ESPN has a cast of hundreds. I didn’t want to take away from what Doris [Burke] or anyone else on the crew did. But yeah, I wanted to be a part of it.”
There was one catch, of course. Sager was scheduled to undergo eight days of chemotherapy at Houston’s MD Anderson after the end of Western Conference Finals. “That would be the only time I could do a game, and so it had to be Game 6,” Sager said. “For a while, I thought we would not have a Game 6. It’s been exciting to watch the games and now to be part of the Finals.”
And exciting, of course, for fans and viewers who have watched Sager strut NBA sidelines for nearly 20 years, to see him get his first crack at the grandest stage in the sport.
Warriors public relations official Raymond Ridder showed his love by rocking the special Stance socks that the TNT crew wore in Sager's honor last month:
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) June 16, 2016
The man arrived at the Q ready for business:
... and, as you knew he would, dressed to the nines:
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 17, 2016
— Julie Phayer (@juliephayer) June 17, 2016
The crowd at Quicken Loans Arena showered Sager with adulation:
And in his role as the reporter working the Warriors sideline, he even got a good-humored crack out of Golden State head coach Steve Kerr after his team sputtered to a miserable start and trailed 31-11 after the first quarter:
It wasn't quite his signature repartee with Gregg Popovich, but hey, we'll take it.
— Ian Kenneth Vergara (@IanKenet) June 17, 2016
After the Cavaliers completed an impressive 115-101 victory that tied the Finals at 3-3, setting up a winner-take-all Game 7 back at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Sunday, Sager sidled up to the star of the evening, Cleveland icon LeBron James, for a postgame chat:
Evidently, though, that wasn't the most important conversation Sager had on Thursday:
Someone said they know someone w/ cancer and Sager is his inspiration. Sager talked to him via FaceTime right away pic.twitter.com/Wv8esp0TFG
— Lauren Brill (@LaurenBrill5) June 17, 2016
That's special, right there.
Craig Sager, you inspire us all. This is everything we needed.
— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) June 17, 2016
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