Craig Sager died today, and the fact that he doesn’t need a descriptor tells you a lot of what you need to know about him and his impact.
Sager, the longtime TNT broadcaster and more recently one of the leading examples of bravery in the face of his own looming mortality, finally ran out of ways to say no to his cancer, and that’s the best way to put it. He didn’t “lose his fight,” because in many ways he actually won it, not only for himself but for those watching him. He denied it purchase the first time it wanted him, and the second time, and while he knew it would be relentless, he showed that he could be relentless in response.
That is, until relenting stopped being an option and became his dreadful reality.
Cancer, after all, is a remorselessly cruel bastard, and though it is not undefeated, it takes a cruel toll on those it consumes. Sager paid that price, but the reason we lionize him today – above and beyond his work, which was exemplary – is because he paid it publicly, chin out, so that others might benefit even slightly from his spirit.
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And truthfully, of all the days to die, choosing public bravery for those less able to fight the fight is the best way of all.
He was fortunate in that he was able to hold off the end long enough to see all the people he cared about, and who cared about him, in his periodic road trips (health permitting) to do his paid job working the sidelines and breaking seemingly impregnable coaches. He singlehandedly removed the caricature of San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich and replaced it with a caring if occasionally stubbornly doctrinaire human being.
He humanized himself from the no-color-too-loud-no-design-too-absurd wardrobe dimension that might have dented his career.
And he showed people that one can love a sport and those within it worth loving without losing one’s ability to see it clearly for what it was, and what it was not. This is his gift to basketball, and it is one the business would do well not to forget, ignore or trivialize now that he is no longer there to remind its devotees.
But mostly Craig Sager was a man whose public platform became a primer for facing the unfaceable. There have been others, of course, some who survived and more who passed, but bravery from which others can benefit is a tale that cannot become redundant. He told it with words, with presence, and with the generous smile and spirit that makes such courage seems not only worthwhile but more attainable for those who suffer as he suffered.
And for that, his death stings a bit less. He is gone, but if we choose to pay attention and absorb what he showed, it may sting just a bit less. If that is Craig Sager’s legacy, then death or no, he won his life . . . for himself, and for us all.