Sucking the Marrow Out of Life: In Remembrance of Craig Sager

Sucking the Marrow Out of Life: In Remembrance of Craig Sager

I saw Craig Sager for the first and last time at a Thunder practice. It was the day after Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals in May 2016. He was walking side by side with Kevin Durant, but, as someone who’d watched basketball for about 20 years, I was way more starstruck to see Mr. Sager than KD.

Durant dwarfed him, made Sager look like a blade of grass alongside, but Sager was the first person I noticed in the gym. Sure, part of that was thanks to his pastel orange jacket. He was clearly gearing up for a waist-up shot; his light blue jeans didn’t quite mesh with the gaudy jacket.

His outfit choice, for which he had gained notoriety for over the years, very little to do with my being stricken. Rather, it had more to do with the fact that, out of the numerous NBA broadcasters and journalists, Sager was the most widely respected. By everyone–executives, players, other reporters, fans. Unlike many media members entrenched in one of America’s major sports leagues, nary a negative word has been uttered about Sager that I ever heard. Hell, I never even heard anything cooler than lukewarm. Everybody knew: Sager works hard. Sager is strong.

The biggest reason for being starstricken, however, was the fact that Sager had performed his job at the highest level in between countless doctor’s appointments, 20 rounds of chemotherapy, and three painful bone marrow transplants. He jetted around the country without complaint despite being trapped in a body wracked by one of the rarest, cruelest diseases we know. He didn’t have to, but he did.

And, to the bitter end, he never quit working, never quit fighting.

Standing at the practice facility, I thought to myself, what have done with my life? Everything else snaps into perspective when life and death come into play.

Even the league’s (at least superficially) stodgy, cantankerous old uncle, Gregg Popovich–who has made a small legend of himself for tearing apart sideline reporters–had a demonstrable respect for Sager:

That was Sager’s first interview after being sidelined for a period with his first bout against leukemia. The interview begins with Pop commending Sager on making it back. Sager replies sheepishly, “Thank you very much,” as Popovich hugs him. “I laid in the hospital for months hoping to do this again,” he says, while flashing an earnest, toothy grin. I can’t watch without a fresh set of tears welling up every time, a needling reminder of life’s transience and death’s power.

The struggle showed in his face–and whose face would stay the same after a long fight with leukemia?–but never in his spirit, never in his words.

Shortly after performing his usual sideline duties in the 2016 NBA Finals, Sager accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance award at the ESPY’s award ceremony. Jim Valvano, the award’s name sake, also died of a rare form of cancer. “Don’t give up,” Coach V said. “Don’t ever give up.” He didn’t know how long he had.

Sager’s speech–equally impactful to me–would have made Jimmy V proud.

“Whatever I might’ve imagined a terminal diagnosis would do to my spirit,” Sager said, accepting the award. “It’s summoned quite the opposite — the greatest appreciation for life itself.

“So I will never give up. And I will never give in. I will continue to keep fighting, sucking the marrow out of life, as life sucks the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how.”

It’s safe to say Mr. Sager reached his goal. Rest easy, Craig. Thank you for all the inspiration. Thank you for reminding us to suck the marrow out of our life, every day.


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