It’s been almost six months since legendary NBA broadcaster Craig Sager died from cancer, but his spirit still lives on in all the people he touched throughout his career. For fans, his garish suits and beaming personality were a staple of our basketball-watching experience for as long as we can remember.
For players, he wasn’t just the quirky sideline reporter who approached them in loud outfits on the sidelines, but someone that earned their trust through the years of strong reporting to get great anecdotes and stories out of them. And for members of the media, he was not only an industry icon, but a mentor to many young reporters trying to carve out their own niche in the business.
That’s precisely who he was for Rachel Nichols of ESPN’s The Jump, who had the unenviable task of announcing his death live on air and delivering an obituary of sorts just moments after she learned of her friend’s passing. Via Molly Knight of Marie Claire:
MK: Have you had a moment when it was difficult for you to keep your calm on air?
RN: I found out [veteran NBA sideline reporter] Craig Sager died less than two minutes before I had to go on the air. I want to say it was 90 seconds. I had been talking to Craig’s son so I knew how sick he was, but some things had happened that week that had led me to believe that we had a little more time. The night before he died, I was thinking about how I needed to write some thoughts down so that I would have something to say when it happened, but I also didn’t want to. I just really believed we had more time. To have ninety seconds to tell people and talk about it and be live on the air… Craig is somebody I looked up to tremendously for so long. He went to [my alma mater] Northwestern. He was the best at what he did. I worked with him at Turner for a while and got to know him very well. That was probably the hardest time I had on air.
MK: For most people, just finding out someone they love has died is difficult enough, but to have to go on television and tell the world… There’s you the human, processing your emotions, and then you the professional. Did you compartmentalize and put the job first?
RN: I don’t know. I just got through it. The only thought I had in those ninety seconds between when my producer told me in my ear and the light went on was, Do it right for him. He deserved that.
To say Nichols did it right would be an enormous understatement. To be able to keep her composure while eulogizing a dear friend and colleague on live television in the immediate aftermath was nothing short of remarkable. It’s worth another watch.
As Nichols pointed out, this was clearly one of her toughest moments as a broadcaster, and how she handled it was truly inspiring.