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Craig Sager is the real NBA MVP: While We’re Waiting…

Craig Sager TNT NBA Playoffs
Tannen Maury/European Pressphoto Agency

Happy Wednesday, Blawg Pound. So I don’t know if it’s God working in mysterious ways or all things being connected or what, but I think every once in a while you get lucky and the universe throws you a bone. That was the case for me Tuesday evening as I tried to figure out what the heck I was going to put in this space.

I spent the bulk of Tuesday’s afternoon hours on Interstate 76 driving to Cleveland from Philadelphia. I’ll be calling Philly my home before long — perhaps I’ll write more about that one of these days; you’re welcome to inquire if you’re curious — and I’ve now crisscrossed the Pennsylvania Turnpike on quite a few occasions, with more yet to come.

The point is that I was driving, and one cannot write while driving. (I suppose one could dictate into a recorder, but I find that my voice has a nasty habit of sounding dumber and dumber upon repeat listens.) I often enjoy long drives. They offer a respite from some of our most convenient and technologically brilliant annoyances. I can’t burn hours scrolling through Twitter feeds or perusing r/squaredcircle or diving into a YouTube rabbit hole. I confess that there may be the occasional glance at the phone, but nowhere near the level of a garden variety non-driving activity. Instead I spend the occasional moment in thought, rattling whatever stray beans are kicking around the old noggin. This often leads to some ongoing one-way conversation that results in a kernel of an idea for a topic.

Craig Sager is working, ladies and gentlemen.

Not on this drive, however. A couple ideas reached out but none latched on. But then, as good fortune would have it, I took one of those dangerous, stupid, compulsive looks at the phone and saw that an internet friend who goes by the Twitter nom de guerre of Hipster Tito — I’ve met the man in person but am ashamed to admit that I forget his human name; my sincerest apologies if you’re reading this, Hip Tits — was thoughtful enough to pass along a tweet about Craig Sager, a gentleman who I quite admire, along with a suggestion that I spill some more digital ink about him. So here we are.

Craig Sager is working, ladies and gentlemen. He’s on television most any night that Turner Sports is broadcasting an NBA playoff game. He was in San Antonio Tuesday night for Game 5 of Spurs-Thunder. A reminder: The man has cancer. Leukemia. Acute myeloid leukemia. He’d beaten it back before, but it reared its head again in March. Getting treatment for it means chemotherapy, blood work, biopsies, and lord knows how many pills and IVs and everything else. He’s doing all that — and he’s still working. That ain’t ordinary.

Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins wrote a cover story on Sager for the May 2 edition of the magazine. A bit on what Sager has been through and continues to go through:

Sager was diagnosed in April 2014 with acute myeloid leukemia, after he felt exhausted working a game in Dallas, and since then he has undergone two bone marrow transplants, 21 bone marrow biopsies and more than 20 chemo cycles—one that spanned two weeks for 24 hours a day. He has been hospitalized with pneumonia, influenza, C. diff (a bacterial infection) and gout. He has slipped out of remission twice, most recently in February, though he did not tell anybody for fear he’d get pulled off coverage of All-Star weekend. Sager still lives outside Atlanta, but he spends most of his time at the Marriott Medical Center in Houston, where he is in the midst of a clinical trial. Friends freaked in March when Sager told HBO’s Real Sports he had been given three-to-six months to live, but that was the prognosis for a patient without treatment, and he is receiving the best care available. “A patient who battles this past a year is amazing,” says his doctor, Naveen Pemmaraju. “What he’s done is almost miraculous.”

He is waiting on a phone call, and as he admires the gold crystals in his tie, he is interrupted by a shrill ring. “I think that’s the doctor,” Sager says. He excuses himself to the living room of the Park Suite and picks up. “What are my platelets today? They’re four today? OK. What’s normal? 140? OK. No, it doesn’t surprise me. I understand. I’m fine. I feel good. Don’t worry. I’m used to this.” He hangs up. “My platelets are at four!” he announces, with a grim laugh. “If I got cut right now I could bleed to death.”

What can you even say about that? I throw up if I so much as see a needle, and I imagine I would throw up ten times as much if a national television camera were fixed on me. But that’s what makes a man like Craig Sager a man like Craig Sager. Again, it ain’t ordinary. He loves his work in a way that few of us are fortunate enough to. He isn’t letting a disease redefine what he is capable of. I can only imagine what it’s like to actually go through that sort of treatment, and he’s barely letting it affect his life. That’s the case on the surface, anyway, but I think one can respectfully say that to a man who dresses like Craig Sager does, the surface matters.

There’s a broader point here, and it’s something like this: It’s just awesome and inspiring and wonderful that some people are so driven and talented and so deeply love what they do. I love that those sorts of people even exist. It isn’t always a good thing, mind you — insert hacky Hitler joke here — but when it’s a positive thing, it’s just great.

I’ve felt my NBA fandom waning a bit over these last couple months. I still enjoy the game very much, but I enjoy it differently, more casually. I don’t need to see the X’s and O’s deconstructed or every decision analyzed. I love that there are people doing those things and raising the level of the general discourse; my appetite has waned a bit is all. Instead, I have found myself gravitating more than ever to certain people and ideas. I’m fascinated by Kevin Love pulling his seat all the way up to the Big Three table. I’m intrigued by the notion of Tyronn Lue as a foulmouthed motivator extraordinaire. Playoff LeBron is always an event.

There are of course other wonderful storylines to track around the league (raise your hand if you’ve rewritten “10 Things I Hate About You” about Steph Curry) but man, nothing can touch the fact that Craig Sager is carrying on his normal work routine in my eyes. My glasses are surely clouded by my pre-existing affection for the man — but he’s the real MVP.

  • MrCleaveland

    So you’re barrelling down the interstate at 70 mph or so and you just have to read a tweet. You’ve been told thousands of times that this is stupid, dangerous, and reckless, not to mention extremely immature, selfish, and inconsiderate to the nonreckless people on the interstate who would just like to complete their journey alive. You admit that this is stupid etc., and yet you do it anyway because . . . because . . . [insert totally inadequate rationalization here].

    You, sir, are a jerk.

  • scripty

    He drives better after a couple tweets and texts

  • Harv

    I’m not a Sager fan – don’t dislike him, just know him only as the self-created wackster with the loud clothes shtick – but remaining vertical and on the air after two bone marrow transplants is hard to believe. Many don’t survive even one, and then there’s the Graft Versus Host Disease that swoops in to kill or seriously affect those that survive the immediate aftermath of the transplant. And the side effects of the anti-rejection meds. And …

    Good guy, bad guy, whatever Sager really is as a person he sure is demonstrating a lot of life force. Many of us like to imagine that we’d finish our lives this way, but few can and it’s inspirational to see him do it.

  • RGB

    Seeing as how the Browns possess Philly’s 2017 first round draft pick, we will expect State of the Eagles updates next season.

  • Garry_Owen

    First, welcome to PA, Will. We need more sane Ohioans here. Philly is a great place to test that sanity.

    Second, having experienced one bone marrow biopsy, and can categorically state that suffering through 21 of them is nothing short of heroic. Cancer sucks.

  • Allen P

    While it’s impossible to disagree with you that distracted driving is dangerous, it is similarly impossible not to see your screed as sanctimonious. Take a deep breath. There are lots of drivers out there (majority?) that aren’t on their phones and are still endangering others through their varied levels of inattention and lack of consideration for the physics of automobiles.

  • Garry_Owen

    Wow. I read his statement of not tweeting as meaning that he “doesn’t tweet.” At best, he admitted to an “occasional glance at his phone.” Ever occasionally glance at something while driving? The french fry that fell in your lap? Your GPS? That Gordon Lightfoot 8-track that you cant’ find in the center console? Sheesh, Mr. C. Rough commute today?

  • MrCleaveland

    I have no tolerance for that stuff, and I won’t apologize for it.

  • Harv

    ok. But reducing Will to a “jerk”? Every one of us has endangered other people, and he wrote this in the context that he doesn’t generally do that. Harsh, Mr. C.

  • MrCleaveland

    Alright, fine. I’m wrong.

  • Yeah—I don’t care about your mood or whatever. Name-calling isn’t going to fly.

  • Can’t disagree with anything you said about Sager, but wanted to pile on with the cathartic drives stuff. I oftentimes whine about my commute, but some of my best ideas—subjects, narratives, finally remembering to pay a bill that was hanging out there—have come while in my car. Glad I’m not alone.

  • CB Everett

    How else am I supposed to comment on wfny on the way to work if I can’t multitask and type while commuting? (Sorry just ran over something). Also I get bored when I’m humming along and need something to read. I’m having a monitor put in. Plus they’ll invent cars soon that will stop and go for us (Google cars) and the death rate on my drive will go down. So there’s that.

    (In all seriousness, Will isn’t the lone jerk. We all do various forms of distracted driving).

  • mgbode

    We need more sane Ohioans here.

    So, with you and Will there…PA is still waiting on those, huh.

    (j/k of course – much love and spread Ohioanism like a disease across this nation)

  • mgbode

    The worst part of me moving out into the rural areas is the drive. The best part is also the drive for the reasons you state. My best outlines and phrases are often done in my head on the windy roads coming out of the country.

  • CB Everett

    It’s all relative. On Monday, I hired a lady from Michigan because she was the closest to normal, modest, earnest, kind, etc. So any pan-Ohioans (general Great Lakes Midwesterners) are welcome out here in CA as far as I’m concerned.

  • RGB

    Us Rust Belters need to stick together.

  • Harv

    it’s fine. Will gets to read it as part of his “mean tweets/mean comments” podcast.

  • Garry_Owen

    My neighbors will agree that Ohianism is a disease, particularly during football season when my big, loud Ohio State flag blights their Penn State scenery. (Yeah, I’m that guy. I hated that guy (usually a M*ch*g*n guy) when I lived in Ohio, but now I’m that guy.)

  • Garry_Owen

    Can WE at least use proper grammar when doing so?

    [He double-checks to make sure his snarky response does not contain improper usage; finding none, he hits “post” and then quickly ducks out before a stapler can be flung his way.]

  • RGB