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Craig Sager's life, career remembered by those who knew him best

Iconic broadcaster left lasting impression on each of lives he touched in Turner Sports family

David Aldridge

David Aldridge TNT Analyst

Archive

Dec 19, 2016 10:30 AM ET

 

“Don't you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you're not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you've lived nearly half the time you have to live already?”

-- Ernest Hemingway
"The Sun Also Rises"

Hemingway, a man comfortable with words, also noted that every true story ends in death. We can only hope that as our individual stories end, whenever they do, we have made a difference in our small place in the world.

We didn’t have to end wars or famine. It would be enough to note that we brought people in our sphere of influence some comfort, some happiness, and did so without hurting others. It would be enough if we were genuinely loved by people for how we used our gifts, and for who we really were, and how we encountered the world.

Our friend Craig Sager finished his run on the plus side of all of God’s ledgers.

Craig’s battle with acute myeloid leukemia should have, finally, sapped the joy from his life, made him angry and withdrawn, as it would have almost all of us. Instead, it revealed even more of the joy and happiness at his center. He outran the moodiness and buried the pain somewhere deep, very deep. He refused to let impending death change him, scar him. He vowed to continue “sucking the marrow out of life, even as life sucks the marrow out of me,” and as someone who is comfortable with words and uses them to express himself to the world, man, that’s a great turn of phrase.

He touched so many who followed the game by simply being himself, as comfortable in his own skin as he was in his colorful clothing. A phony person would have been defined only by the false strutting of the insecure, hoping the clothes would speak for him. Craig’s clothes were not his story; they were his signature, his flourish, the way Howard Cosell’s mastery of language and law were his; the way Bryant Gumbel’s skepticism is his, the way all great communicators break through the ennui of 600 channels through the force of personality -- a cudgel with which they can shape the interests of their audience. He was winking with us.

And I came to love Craig because I came to see over the years we worked together that if you allowed yourself to get caught up in the pastels and the lizard skins, you didn’t notice that he always, always asked the right question. He did it with a smile, but he did it, and that’s what the job entails. As my first boss told me when I was 22, you can’t be afraid to ask the question. That’s what we do: ask questions, often of the famous and powerful. It’s not for everyone. But he was great at it; his postgame interviews in losing locker rooms were the best, better than mine, better than anyone’s that I can recall.

 

Taking a look back on Craig Sager's legacy and career as a broadcaster.

He was, then, a great broadcaster, but he was so much more than that, to so many. He was just a great time. He was the kind of guy who, as David Lettterman said of his father, “when he walked through the room, the lamps would rattle.” There was no one at Turner Sports that was too small for Sages to chat up. He was truly curious about the world and the people in it, and so he seemed to know every fan in Indy and every cop in Golden State, and he was a presence -- a tall, athletic guy who looked exactly like a guy who ran several miles a day, which he did most of his adult life.

That running hid a love of a cold beer and wings at Hooters, which was his home away from home on the road. Where’s Sager? Hooters. That was his move, as was chasing the night until the night gave in, out of breath, unable to put him off another minute -- the night now another good buddy, someone made comfortable by the guy who had no problem putting on an animal’s head at his alma mater, Northwestern, to become Willie the Wildcat, or sliding down the homer slide at Miller Park that was the province of Bernie Brewer.

He didn’t die as he lived. He was better as he died, never giving an inch to the disease inside him, continuing to work and laugh and drink and live. He died last week, as we all will, and that is how all true stories end. We will miss him terribly -- not as much as his wife, Stacy, not as much as his children Craig II, Ryan, Kacy, Krista and Riley -- but we will miss him. Our lamps are still.

 

Charles Barkley reflects on Craig Sager's impact on him.

What we can do, though, is make witness. Witness is a powerful tool, a way for those with no voice to make clear their version of events, and the people which shaped those events. Often, we think of bearing witness as something painful, as it no doubt is when talking about surviving some of the horrors humans inflict on one another.

But in this case, bearing witness is, I believe, a pleasure, not a chore to be endured but something to be savored, as the people who worked with him at Turner for more than three decades recall every delightful detail of their encounters with Craig. Please understand how much we are hurting. We are crying. We are enormously sad that our friend won’t be around any more. But we must bear witness to our friend, who reported and drank and laughed at the silliness of life. And who, indeed, sucked as much marrow out of life as his cheeks could carry.

Craig Sager and Kevin Harlan (right) show off some flashy duds.

Godspeed, Craig.

Always a great friend

I was fortunate to know Craig for 17+ years. Besides the many times I was lucky enough to hang out with Craig in various cities from Pullman, Wash., to Boston, to College Station, Texas, to South Beach …probably my favorite memory of Craig was the week I got married back in June, 2008. The day before my wedding, Craig insisted on having a group of my friends and family up to his golf course for a ‘mini-bachelor’ party. There was lots of golf, lots of gambling and sure as hell, lots of Bud Lights … it was a blast. 

That was Craig, always fun, but more importantly, always a great friend.

-- Bert Bondi
Turner Sports Producer

A life of pure joy 

I had the pleasure of spending time at his home with he and his wife Stacy and he had the most amazing basement full of memorabilia … comparable to the Smithsonian for a 30+ year sports vet -- as he toured me around all the jerseys, balls, strange items, I found myself more in awe of him walking down memory lane reflecting on each of his favorite items and how he acquired them vs the actual items … his true joy shone through more than ever.

Another fond memory I have with him is from Summer League, he had a day off and decided to ride the roller coaster (I believe it was at the New York, New York Hotel) … by himself … and of course he bought the picture they take. He came running into the production office ‘Ben, Ben … you have to see this picture of me on this roller coaster!’ His pure joy in the picture along with his pure joy showing us was such a reflection on who he was … always living his life to the fullest. When I asked him if he wanted the picture back he said, ‘no, you guys should keep this here and have some fun.’

-- Ben Spitalnick
Senior Talent Manager

The guy who did it all

The guy who worked hard:

Many years ago in a weekly “ideas” meeting there was a question about a story. It was so long ago it may have been covering the Alonzo Mourning trade to Miami. Keep in mind, back then we had the NBA on three nights a week -- six games. Plus we had NFL coverage. Sager was naturally busy. He was asked can you make the travel work for this story?

Anytime, anywhere,” was the reply. THAT sums up what he meant from a work perspective at Turner. It set the tone for all of us.

The guy who played hard:

Again, many years ago we had just finished a game.

The hour was late and we had an early flight together the next morning back to Atlanta. He wanted to go out. I hated to fly … especially in the early morning … especially if I was queasy (the inevitable byproduct of a night out with Craig) early in the morning. I explained this to him. His retort?

‘We don’t have to fly the plane … just ride on it!’

The guy with a big heart:

Leaving the Oakland Coliseum after covering an NFL game in the “Black Hole” in 1996.

Albert Vertino (left) respected Craig Sager's dedication and selflessness.

We are driving back to the hotel and he spots a young lady and her son. Walking on the side of the road. The service road that ran adjacent to the expressway.

They were carrying several bags of recyclables with them -- I’m assuming they were going to turn them in for the deposits.

He pulled our rental car over and offered them a ride home.

Sight unseen -- no idea where they lived -- turned out to be several miles away. It would’ve been quite the walk, into an area of town that was a bit rough.  He did know they were in need and it was obvious to him he could assist in some way. So he did.

-- Albert Vertino
General Manager, NBA Digital

Smiling and encouraging all the way

It was our time together during Sages’ final playoff run. The strength & courage he displayed was superhuman.

Flying cross-country for treatment and arriving back on game day to do his job, it was beyond miraculous. Smiling and encouraging me all the way.

One night pregame, a Kiss cover band was warming up and jamming. Craig was jamming along using the press table as his personal drum set. I joined in and we were grooving together. At the time we both thought it was the real group. Pistons PR representatives Kevin Grigg and Cletus Lewis whispered in my ear that it was a cover band. As we watched Sages continue his drum solo, we were both like ‘nah, we're not gonna disturb his groove’ by filling him in, too. Craig's energy, despite chemo treatment the night before, magically transformed that cover band into the real McCoy! 

So many great years on the road together, I could go on forever. But it was that final run, I will never forget and cherish for a lifetime. 

-- Alvin Whitney
Field Producer

Relax, you're not flying the plane!

One of my first remote assignments when I started working at Turner back in 2010 was to fly to Orlando for the day with Sager to meet the Lakers and Kobe Bryant at their hotel. We set up a shoot as Kobe was going to announce the Western Conference All-Star starters.

I had never met Sager before so I reached out to him the night before we flew from Atlanta to Orlando.  We met at the airport gate in Atlanta and immediately I could tell there was something genuinely special about this guy: he made you feel welcomed, made you feel like you've known him years.

Billy Proctor (left) experienced Craig Sager's friendly, open nature first hand.

When we landed in Orlando I said, ‘I'll see you at the hotel, I have pick up my rental car.’ Sager responded, ‘no you don't, you're riding with me.’ I was shocked that he invited me to ride in his car service with him. I worked at a few other networks before Turner and did not expect this. He made you feel welcomed, made you feel like you've known him for years.

During the ride to the hotel we talked about everything: hoops, golf, girls, beer, the industry, etc. There was a case of Bud Light in the car (‘road sodas,’ as Sager called them). He said, ‘we need to finish these during the ride back to the airport tonight.’ I said, ‘Sager, I'm gonna be a mess!’

He responded, ‘RELAX PROCTOR, YOU'RE NOT FLYING THE PLANE!’

-- Billy Proctor
Senior Associate Director

Still in love with his 'bride'

The joys of working with Craig are well documented, but the most impactful thing about knowing him is knowing him with his family. Craig and Stacy's love radiated and Craig never missed an opportunity to gush over his ‘bride.’ The adoration for his wife and immense pride for his children was always evident. Spending time with them and knowing Craig as a family man only enhances my respect for him. If you know the love that he gives to his friends and the time he gives to strangers, you can only imagine what he’s like when he’s around his favorite people in the world. It has been an honor to have the Sagers as a part of our lives and have them give their support and love to our family.

-- Megan Bondi
Turner Sports Talent Services

'He seemed to be everywhere'

I have worked hundreds of games with Craig including the regular season, playoffs, conference finals, All-Star games and Olympic Games through the years. He was just such a special person that would light up a room and get everybody in a good mood. I can honestly say I don't think I ever saw the man in a bad mood. On top of being a great guy, he was the ultimate teammate. He always wanted what was best for our telecast, if he couldn't get something on air, he would pass it along to the play by play guy or analyst and let them do it. If he had an idea for the truck, he would let us know or give us a heads up on a breaking story so we could always get ahead in our preparation. I always looked forward to having a Bud Light with Craig after the game and hearing his stories from the day.

A couple funny memories come to mind when I think about Craig and our time together.

I remember during the playoffs one year we were doing conference finals in Dallas. I was out taking a walk with a couple guys on a day off and we were saying it was amazing how much energy Craig always seemed to have. Well, not even 5 minutes later, Craig came out of nowhere to startle us and he got a good laugh out it. That was just Craig: he seemed to be everywhere and you just never knew where you would see the guy. 

I was doing the Olympic Games with Craig in 2012 and our production folks couldn't find Craig for an upcoming interview, so they asked me to go take a walk around the arena and see if I could find him. After about 10 minutes walking around I see Craig come running around the corner and I say, ‘hey we need you for interview, where have you been?’ 

He tells me he was locked in a bathroom and couldn't get out until he broke the door handle. After a lot of laughter, we decided to take a picture of the door to remember the occasion. Later during the game I snapped another photo of Craig at the announcing table and we were still giggling about the situation. He was just the best and I have so much love and admiration for the way he lived his life and the way he battled leukemia over the last 2 years.

RIP my friend … I will always be SagerStrong!!

-- Jeff Paris
Graphics Coordinator

Forever taking notes

I had been working with Turner for several years, ran into him many times, but never really worked closely with him. And then we were put on the same college football package together in the early 2000s.

And I remember talking with Bone (producer Scott Cockerill); I had known Bone for years. I had done college football a while. He was asking me what I thought about our crew. And I said, ‘well, I like the crew; it’s going to be fun. I just have kind of one concern.’ And he said ‘what’s that?’ And I said ‘well, your sideline reporter.’ And he goes, ‘Sager? What’s that about?’ I go ‘well, all right, hear me out on this. It may sound petty and all that stuff, but I think I’m reading this right. Sager’s so used to doing the major events, I don’t know if college football is big enough for him. I don’t know if he’s going to really want to even put out the energy for this. I don’t know if he’ll understand what an incredible weekly festival this is to go to, these towns, and the rabid fans, and the students, and the atmosphere is crazy.  I don’t know if he’ll appreciate that.’

Anyway, we get into the season, maybe third or fourth week, maybe longer. He’s doing okay and done some nice reports -- and I’m still not convinced. We go to Texas A&M. We go to College Station. And I don’t know if you’ve been there. But Friday nights, they do what they call midnight yell practice, where they get about 25,000 people in the stadium, and they practice their cheers for the next day. It’s all male cheerleaders -- yell leaders, they call them. And at the same time, we all knew Sager had to do a hit for the open of the game, and the game’s about 4 o’clock in the afternoon the next day.

So we get to the stadium. Erin Andrews (then a reporter for Turner) is there, and Bert (Bondi) is there, and the camera crew is there to get midnight yell practice. And we’re looking for Sager, looking for Sager. Don’t see him. So the students come marching in -- some of them from the dorms, some of them from the library, I’m sure -- and a lot of them from the bars. And where do you think Sager is? Here he comes in with the students.

Craig Sager (far right) cuts up with the TNT crew on an off day on location.

So we’re shooting video of this, and clearly, Sager’s been drinking. You can tell from the first second you see the video, he’s been drinking. And I turn to Bert and go ‘how the hell is he going to do a report tomorrow? He’s been drinking all night.’ The students left after the yell practice, and they went back to the bar, and he joined them.

Anyway, he’s got like a 90-second monologue to do in the open, and it was supposed to reflect the atmosphere. It was the first time that Turner had been there and we wanted to give you a snapshot of what it was like to be an A&M student and involved in all of this fanfare. He had been out to the bars until 3, or whatever. And that’s typical.

So we get to the game the next game, Sager grabs the mike, the light goes on, and he proceeds to give a two-minute soliloquy, with the most articulate, concise, insightful description of Texas A&M, and what it meant to be an Aggie. He included all kinds of the local lingo that they use there, that you don’t hear anywhere else. He was spot on. And it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I had to stop him after the game. I was like, ‘Sager, how the (bleep) do you do this? How can you do this?’ And he looked at me and he reached into his back pocket and pulled out that little ring binder, with his cards on it. And he’s like, ‘I don’t go anywhere without this thing. Even at two in the morning, I’m writing notes.’ So I was like, okay, I’ll never doubt you again. I’m sold.

-- Sam Poulos
Field Producer

A life-changing person to meet

My encounters with Sages were unfortunately scarce. The first time I met Sager was when I was an intern and I got to walk him around the Turner offices. I occupied Craig’s desk at the time and asked him about his interesting ‘décor.’ See this: a massive framed picture of the entire Georgia Bulldogs football team, shirtless, with metal chains around their necks, sitting at Craig Sager’s desk. He laughed and explained. I quickly learned that Sager had a gift of giving you his full and undivided attention when he spoke to you. He asked me all about my family and how I came to be with Turner. Made you feel like the most important person in the room. It wasn’t just me, though. Everyone he spoke to was given that same attention. He was the most sought out man in the room.

I selfishly wish I could have started my position earlier or even more so wish he had more time on this earth because the way our colleagues talk about him is outstanding. Sure, he was a legend. But he was an even better man. He not only touched the lives of everyone around him, but he changed the way they lived, mine included.

-- Leah Pearl
Talent Coordinator

Wait it out ... or have some beers?

It was August of 2001 and Sager and I happened to be on the same flight to Australia for Turner’s coverage of the Goodwill Games in Brisbane. We had a three hour layover at LAX before our flight to Australia. Sager sees me waiting at the gate for the connection and tells me to join him for a beer at a local bar. (Remember, this is before 9/11, so passengers were free to come and go as they pleased during a layover). I told him our flight to Australia was leaving in three hours. And he says, ‘would you rather spend three hours reading the USA Today for three hours or have a couple of beers with me at a bar?’

Of course, Sager was right and I jumped in the cab with him.

Craig Sager and Tom Heitz, somewhere, drinking

The taxi dropped us off at a place called, The Baja Cantina in Marina del Ray, about 10 minutes from the airport. For the next two hours Sager bought rounds of Bud Light while holding court with anyone who would listen while the time flew by. It was such a cool experience that I made sure to snap a picture of the two of us (photo attached).  Although we barely made it back in to catch our flight to Australia, Sager never worried about missing it. I kinda got the feeling this was not the first time he’s grabbed a beer during a long layover.

And that was Craig Sager … a guy who always wanted to be doing something. He didn’t want to wait around three hours for a flight when he could be downing a couple of cold ones and telling stories in a crowded bar. He wanted to just simply live life. That’s what I’ll remember about him …

-- Tom Heitz
Producer, NBA TV/TNT

An unsinkable spirit

I have so many stories of him … overall he was the most energetic, hard-working people you could ever meet. He never complained about an assignment, a trip, a request -- he met it all with vigor and determination. He would have a game in Miami and call me and tell me he made a boondoggle down to the Bahamas to buy a piece of jewelry for Stacy -- he refused to sit still. 

Every time I would call with his schedule he’d say, “that’s great … Memphis is on losing streak, maybe they’ll break it while I’m covering the game” or “assignment in Minnesota in the winter time? No problem, I like to take a morning run while it’s chilly outside.” 

Tara August (right) knew Craig Sager was a dedicated family man.

There was never a downside to any assignment or request for a better game. During the MLB playoffs years ago there was a challenge over a foul ball hit to the upper rafters of the stadium. Instead of talking to a manager/player/MLB rep about the call, he went all the way up in the stands and interviewed the guy selling popcorn and asked him what he saw. And the suits were their own story. He took a trip to China and didn’t see any fabrics he liked (they were too ‘dull’) until he glanced over the side of the store reserved for women. The guy told him, ‘you can’t buy those, they’re for women’ and he said ‘perfect!’ And bought 10 different fabrics and had new suits made. All one of a kind, just like him. When I visited him in the hospital this summer, he asked me to drop him off at the Texas Rangers’ games, even though he was under doctor’s orders to stay at the hospital. He would tell the nurses he was going for a walk and not come back for several hours. Unsinkable. 

-- Tara August
Vice President of Talent Relations

Family over everything

He was one of the most prepared reporters I know.  

His briefcase was always stuffed with stats, and notes and he would sit in the interview room and put bunches of these stats onto notecards in the smallest writing I’ve ever seen. I wonder if he needed the notes for the sidelines or if just the process of putting them on the cards helped him commit them to memory.

In the days of beepers he refused to have one.  And when he got his first cell phone he would turn if off and leave it in his bag. When he did at last agree to leave it on it would still live in his bag.  I remember calling him one time because Rob Wilson (the senior public relations director of the Miami Heat) had arrived with our interview the phone rang in the bag. As you can imagine, Rob was not happy. Craig eventually wandered back in with a sheepish grin and made light of the situation.

Everyone will talk about Hooters, but the thing I’ll remember was the last time I worked with him in Miami. He was standing around and says with that big smile, “I went to Hooters last night and didn’t know any of the girls!! I can’t remember the last time that happened!” Stacey and the kids were there and even with how sick he must have been they were going to go to the Bahamas for a few days to rest.

Every year he had a family photo taken. A Christmas card, really, but when we met up it was the first thing he pulled out of that briefcase. Always a story about each of the kids and where they were going and what they were up to. Family was strong in him.

The last time we worked together was in April in Miami. We were in the interview room. You know where it is. Suddenly from down the hall I hear ‘Dale West … Dale West!’

Then there he is. Stacey and Riley and Ryan trailing along in his wake. He blasted into the room like we saw each other just yesterday. The traditional fist bump was our greeting and it was just business as usual. After the locker room post game we headed back to the truck. Come over to Hooters he said. We will have a beer. I didn’t go because I had an early shoot the next day. That was the last time I saw him.

-- Dale West
Camera Operator

Fearless in journalism (and fashion)

It has truly been a blessing to have Sager as a friend. I admired him for his tenacity, kindness, how he illustrated love for everyone but especially towards his family and that he had the memory of an elephant. One of the best experiences I had with him was when he invited me to join him at his fabric store/tailor in Miami. WOW is the only word I can think of to describe it. His colorful visions and fearlessness in his wardrobe also showed in his journalism.

Olivia Scarlett (right) always knew Craig Sager was cheering for her favorite team.

On April 15, 2013, Craig flew to Boston to cover the TNT Pacers-Celtics game and this was the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. Instead of flying right back home to get out of harms way, he told me he was going to stay and went straight to the crime scene to investigate the incident.

I will miss his daily “Hey Babe” greetings, his rhythmic walk and contagious positive vibe. I will never forget the kind notes he left me, him always remembering to cheer for Michigan football games for me and all the exciting personal stories he shared. His legacy will live on if we love life and respect each other just as he did. 

-- Olivia Scarlett
Manager, Talent Services

Epic moment in Chicago

I was lucky enough to produce the Thunder/Bulls game as Sager made his return to the sidelines in March, 2015, in Chicago. The building was electric. The scene was madness. To watch all of these players, coaches, event staff and fans welcome him back was awe inspiring. We worked with the Bulls Game Operations staff to surprise Sager out of the first media timeout of the game.

Typically, our sideline reporter does a stand up out of this first break and I remember working with Renardo Lowe to stall Sager from doing the hit so we would capture the moment in the arena during the break. During the break, a Welcome Back Sager video played. As it was playing, I got a sense Sager knew something was going to happen. As it video finished, Benny the Bull surprised Sager and presented him with a Bulls colored plaid jacket. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. It was an inspirational moment. As those few minutes passed, one understood what Craig Sager meant as a person and his fortitude in this fight against cancer. It was truly one of the most genuine moments which I have witnessed in a broadcast. That will be a night which I will never forget.

-- Jeff Randolph
Producer

Meeting one of his heroes

One of my favorite memories of Craig was the day I got to see not Craig Sager intrepid reporter dressed like a dandy, but Craig Sager world’s biggest sports fan. I witnessed his awe of a 5-foot-7 driver and a true fanboy moment from a man who had seemingly seen it all.

We were covering a Pacers’ playoff series and happened to be in Indianapolis on Indy 500 race weekend. I had set up a shotgun ride in a pace car for Craig with Mario Andretti. He kept asking me if I really knew people at the track and if the shoot was for real. He told me he didn’t want to show up and be driven by someone else. He went on about his memories of watching Mario win the 500.

I assured him everything was on the level and gave him a time to meet the crew and me at the Speedway. The morning for the ride arrived and the camera crew (Dave Zavolta and Brian Foley) and I were at IMS tricking out the pace car for video and sound, but Craig was nowhere to be found.  About an hour before the ride was supposed to happen, my cell phone rang. I pressed the receive and heard an irritated, slightly panicked voice, ‘Sager here. I have no clothes.’

The exchange went something like this.

‘What do you mean? Where are you?’

‘At the baggage claim. I have no clothes.’

‘Again, what do you mean?’

‘Airline lost my luggage.’

‘Can’t you ride with and interview Mario in what you’re wearing?’

‘No. I will not meet Mario Andretti in what I am wearing.’

‘Just get in a cab and come to the track. We don’t have much time before Mario arrives. We’ll figure it out.’

About thirty minutes later, Sager arrived in the same robin’s egg blue pants he had worn on the air during the previous night’s game and a golf shirt with pizza sauce and grease -- a remnant of his post-game snack -- on the front.  We were off the air around midnight and he probably headed to the airport at 4 a.m.  He didn’t want to miss his flight or his ride with Andretti so I don’t think he had slept.

Craig Sager poses for a photo with one of his sports icons, Mario Andretti (center).

We looked at each other and I said, ‘you have twenty minutes. Meet us at the start/finish line.’ I told him where the track shop was and admonished him to buy a clean golf shirt, something that wouldn’t draw attention to the previous night’s pants.

About fifteen minutes later, he strutted up to the car wearing those blue suit pants and a rayon t-shirt emblazoned with Andretti’s number two in the black, orange, and white color scheme of the driving champ’s triumphant Indy win of 1969. It was the gaudiest combo you could imagine. Sager smiled and proclaimed, ‘do you think he’ll know I’m a fan?’

Moments later, Andretti appeared, gave Sager a quick up and down, and with the coolest of whispers stated, ‘I like the way you dress.’ Sager beamed, profusely thanked him, and declared his love of Andretti and his remembrances of the driver’s career. Mario would repeat this statement on camera.

The two went on their ride. They even had a near-mishap at one hundred and twenty miles per hour, almost hitting some hapless fans that had wondered onto the speedway’s backstretch. Sager swore and yelled for Andretti to slow down. Mario just smiled and whispered, ‘they weren’t supposed to be there.’

After the ride was over, the lifelong fanboy in Craig wasn’t finished. Sager stretched out that ugly rayon t-shirt and blurted out, ‘Mario, this was the thrill of my life. Would you sign my shirt?’ Mario grinned and said, ‘I don’t have a pen.’ Sager looked at me and I reached into my pocket and handed Mario a sharpie. He left his mark right on that giant rayon number two on Sager’s chest.

From that day forward, almost every time Sager and I spoke, he would bring up that ride with Mario and remind me that it was the thrill of his life.  He even mentioned it in his ESPYs speech. The thing is, I believe him. It really was a thrill for him because like each of us, first and foremost, he truly was a sports fan.  He just happened to be living his dream.

-- DT Slouffman
Field Producer

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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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