It was one of the most touching moments of the weekend.
Gregg Popovich, the entertainingly irascible coach of the San Antonio Spurs, took a moment during a interview during the team’s NBA playoffs game to speak directly to TNT’s Craig Sager, the sideline reporter who is missing the postseason as he undergoes treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. Popovich and Sager have a long history of tangling during interviews, but this Pop was kind as he spoke with Sager’s fill-in, his 25-year-old son, Craig Jr.
“It was just fabulous, an uplifting, tremendous thing for me,” Sager told SI.com’s Richard Deitsch on Monday from his hospital room in Atlanta. “Pop saying he wanted me back and then promising to be nice? I was like, Oh, my God, that’s unbelievable, what an honor. But then I started thinking about it: If I come back and Pop starts being nice to me, it just wouldn’t be right. I want him to go Serbian [Popovich’s father was Serbian] on me.”
The news of Sager’s illness was shocking and sudden. When he felt poorly on April 10, he contacted a friend who is the Dallas Mavericks’ physician and, when he described his symptoms, he was told to “go to the hospital now.” In a Dallas-area hospital, Sager said he learned his hemoglobin levels were dangerously low and he was given blood transfusions. “I was walking dead,” Sager said. He returned to Atlanta, where a bone marrow biopsy initially was negative for cancer. Later, he was given the bad news, which his son announced on Twitter on Thursday night.
“After a few of my jokes, I think I have gotten to them,” Sager said. “My personality has not been affected. I’m trying to stay positive and I feel pretty healthy. I feel obviously better than I did last week. Thank God for the NBA on TNT, because I am watching all the games and it is therapeutic.
Btw we were told he was leukemia free on Tuesday and then they apologized and hit us with the gut check yesterday.— Craig Sager II (@CraigSagerJr) April 18, 2014
“Getting my first chemo was very emotional,” Sager told Deitsch. “I’m thinking, What is this going to be like, how will it feel, what effects will it have on my body — a total unknown. I have never been sick a day in my life. All of sudden they are administering the first chemo and [ESPN/ABC play-by-play announcer] Mike Breen gets on the air and says, ‘Hey, we just want to say we miss Craig Sager.’ That happened right as the first chemo came. I was like, Wow, I feel better now from the love and support of the airwaves!”
Because this is Craig Sager, it’s important to note what he’s wearing in the hospital. A Captain America gown, he told Deitsch, and lemon-colored socks.