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.