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Craig Sager Was NBA Family

In memory of a warm and constant delight to basketball fans

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

You often hear NBA players and coaches refer to the league as a family, but that feeling isn’t exclusive to them. Spend enough time watching a game, and many of the people you see on your screen start to feel as familiar as the closest people in your life, from the pugnacious point guards, to the grinning big men, to the grousing coaches, stoic referees, and outrageously dressed sideline reporters.

The NBA — both the league and its fans — lost a family member today. Craig Sager, a longtime TNT sideline reporter, died after a battle with leukemia. He was 65.

Sager was the game-show host inside the game. To the casual fan he was known for his colorful wardrobe, which was often the subject of playful ridicule from his interview subjects.

But Sager’s touch was subtle. He was a consummate everyday entertainer — the Bob Barker of the league — and he brought an essential bit of extra showmanship to the most mundane part of an NBA broadcast: the sideline interview.

Sager offered a dash of charm and color to what was the bane of many head coaches’ game experience. No matter how terse, how boring, how boilerplate the responses he received, Sager served and volleyed with an invisible sense of craftsmanship. Like a reliable local news anchor, his calming effect was cumulative. In a life of Tuesday and Thursday regular-season nights and marathon postseason slogs, there was Sager, dressed like a psychedelic ’70s golfer, bringing a bit of panache, a splash of color, to the grind.

In terms of day-to-day excitement, the NBA sits right in the middle of the big three sports. The NFL rules a day of the week, and baseball rules a season. The NBA is a more nebulous temporal experience. It keeps you company when it’s too cold or too depressing to venture outside. There is nothing better than a good NBA game; there is nothing more dependable than a just-fine one.

Sager — with his polished delivery and outrageous visage — was one of the hallmarks of that dependability. He was a great comfort. He will be greatly missed.