Craig Sager Jr has the best stories: The PtR Interview

The Sager men making their first TV appearance together - Craig Sager Jr.

On the day before Mother's Day Craig Sager Jr. and I discussed his dad, the Spurs, SEC football and one of the best "partying with Barkley" stories you'll hear today.

It's the Western Conference Finals in 2012.

The Spurs are matched up against the Thunder in the now famous "I want some nasty" series that Oklahoma City went on to dominate after falling behind the Spurs two games to none.

But on this day, basketball didn't matter. What mattered was domination on the golf course. Two teams, battling for ultimate supremacy at the Quarry Golf Club in San Antonio. Team one, led by Craig Sager and his son. Team two, led by former Bulls and Spur great Steve Kerr.

Now in the Sager world, "domination" doesn't always mean winning the round, though that's a definite plus. But if you can outdrive, outdrink AND outplay your competition, you've earned your stripes.

"It was amazing," Craig Sager Jr. told me. "We're on a short par 3 and my dad pounds three Bud Lights before we even finish the hole, and he still beat Kerr, on that hole and the entire round. That's just who he is."

He went on, almost in a stream of consciousness. I could hear the love and admiration in his voice as he talked about his father so I just tried not interrupt while capturing his words.

"My dad is always, always on point.

He's the most fun, hardest working guy I've ever known.

He's always enjoyed his work and he knows that anyone would want his job, so he views it as a privilege. For him getting up everyday and going to work is a privilege, and that's why it's so hard for him right now.

My two sisters and I missed two days of school in total growing up, and I had the chicken pox once. He taught us that. Whether its school or work, you show up, everyday, and do your job."

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And then we got started.

Travis: How is your dad?

Craig: I literally just got off the phone with him about 5 seconds before you called. He went to his first outpatient treatment this morning and they tested him again, and he's improved so much since yesterday, that now he gets all of tomorrow off and doesn't have to go in. He'll get to relax on Mother's Day and not worry about it, not think about it, so he's definitely excited.

Travis: That's so great to hear. So tell me what it's like to grow up with a famous dad? As a kid do you know that your dad is famous, or does it just seem normal?

Craig: It's a tough lifestyle. It takes a certain type of person to be able to do that, just to be out traveling every single week. I didn't really get to see him that much growing up and then my parents divorced so it's not an easy life, but it's what we had.

It's something I always knew, but I never really thought about it too much. A lot of people never even knew that's my dad. I'll have people coming up to me and say "you know there's this guy that wears these crazy suits that has the same name as you?"

And I tell 'em "yeah, that's my dad."

I'll be out doing some online work at a restaurant, watching a game and see my dad on the screen and it's weird because no one really knows he's my dad. No one really has an idea.

Growing up, some of the friends you have is a little different I guess. Danny Ainge came to one of my soccer games when I was six years old. It was great. The people he works with, the players the coaches, they're just all so much fun to be around.

Travis: Give me some dirt on Ernie Johnson.  He's passed out on the couch all the time when you're a kid, right?

Craig: (laughing) no, Ernie's not a big drinker... but I think I have some Dan Patrick pictures too that have come up in some family albums.

Travis: Pictures of Dan passed out on the couch?

Craig: No, just pictures with the family.

Travis: Oh, that's too bad, but I imagine you've got some epic Vegas stories?

Craig: I'll give you the shortened, PG version of one of my favorites. 2010 Western Conference Finals. We were flying from LA to Phoenix in between games. My dad and I took the red-eye so we could go to Vegas on the way. We were out the night before partying and it was five hours before our flight. I told him. "Dad I need to go to bed. I'm going to be so tired tomorrow." He said, "Junior! You aren't flying the plane!" and handed me another beer. We wake up and fly straight to Vegas for our quick six hour trip in Sin City. We land and go straight to a helicopter tour that flies you over the Grand Canyon because I had never been and he knew I would love it.

Then we hit up the Hard Rock Cafe pool and party for a couple hours and then do some gambling. We leave for the airport and land in Phoenix. First thing he says is "Let's go to the Diamondbacks game." We get there for the last four innings and continue partying and having a good time. After that he wants to go to the Blue Martini in Scottsdale to meet up with Barkley. We go there and stay until 1 am.

The bouncer said "dude please don't do it," when I asked him which way to walk on the highway.

He leaves me money and goes back to the Ritz in Phoenix and I stay with Barkley. Barkley eventually leaves, but I'm still there. I don't have a debit card and all I have is the cash my dad gave me. I ended up spending too much of it (so I thought) and at the end of the night realized I would not have enough for a cab because it was far as hell away. My dad wouldn't answer his phone and so I started walking the 14 mile walk to the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix. The bouncer said "dude please don't do it," when I asked him which way to walk on the highway.

After four hours of walking I am so thirsty in the desert air that I am on all fours, drinking out of the sprinkler systems going off in front of the hotels. I finally get close enough and realize I had put the money in my pocket and not my bag (I'm an idiot). I get a cab and after 8 miles of walking I get to the hotel at 5 am and have to be escorted to the room because I didn't have a room key. The concierge knocks on the door and my dad, exhausted from our day answers.

The concierge asks "is he yours?" He just laughs and I walk in to crash. I had to be at he airport 2 hours later to catch my flight home.

I was 21 years old and my energy was no match for him and still isn't. We have so much fun together and I've got so many stories like this. I've never seen someone able to do more fun stuff in one day than Craig Sager Sr.

 

 

Travis: Holy crap, that could be a movie. I want to hear the long version someday over a couple of beers. So you cover the Falcons for Score Atlanta. Do you think they'll bounce back after such a disappointing season?

Craig: The division they played in was weak for the first five years, but it's gotten so much tougher. The competition is tough for sure, but will definitely improve. The coaches they've brought in, the players and some of the reinforcement on the offensive line will help them a ton. They still need a replacement for Tony Gonzalez though. I don't think people realize what a huge part of the offense he was. So it'll have to be a special player to fill his shoes.

Travis: What do you think about Michael Sam not getting drafted?

Craig: I think his combine and pro day didn't help, but it's definitely a tough situation because you can look at the conference he comes from and just in the last four years Mizzou, UGA and Florida have had 50 or 60 arrests and a bunch of those guys were drafted anyway. People are just gonna ask why those guys were selected and he was passed over. People will draw the conclusion that the NFL still has a problem with this kind of thing.

(Note: After we talked Sam was drafted in the 7th round by the St. Louis Rams)

Travis: How about the Johnny Manziel and the Cowboys passing on him?

Craig: I was definitely surprised. These draft experts talk so much about height and how much it matters. I agree, there's definitely some disadvantages, but it's not like these guys are shorter than they were in their college playing days, and they obviously performed well. If a quarterback can perform in the SEC, why can't he perform at the next level? They make such a big deal out of height, but then a guy like Russell Wilson comes in and these guys know how to find their window. Manziel is no different. He's the best quarterback in this draft, by far.

Travis: You played football at UGA in 2009, correct?

Craig: Yes, 2008, 2009 and 2010. My first year was Matthew Stafford's last.

Travis: Tell me the most ridiculous "SEC" story you can without both of us getting arrested.

We're going up the elevator and two of the guys start throwing up everywhere, uncontrollably. I had no idea what was going on so I asked the only one that could still talk.

Craig: So, we had these random drug tests, called zero notification tests where you had to go in the next morning after you were notified. Early on the morning of my test I get on the elevator with three other players who shall remain nameless. We're going up the elevator and two of the guys start throwing up everywhere, uncontrollably. I had no idea what was going on so I asked the only one that could still talk.

Their explanation was completely crazy, and completely SEC.

This was a color coded test, so these guys thought they could flush whatever they had in their system out by drinking bleach. They thought drinking bleach would help them pass their drug test.

Travis: It didn't make them any sicker than that? Holy hell, that's crazy.

Craig: No, I don't think they were able to swallow it, but yeah, that's your crazy SEC story.

Travis: Did Herschel Walker ever come to the locker room and just start doing push ups and embarrassing everybody?

Craig: Yeah, that guy's an animal. He didn't do push ups, but he was around. My mom and dad knew him from years ago when dad covered UGA and he's always been a great guy.

Travis: How about the Hawks? Is everyone there excited about Coach Bud?

Craig: It's been great. In the past you'd go to a bar during the NBA Finals and they'd have some stupid Braves game on, but you can really see Atlanta getting excited about the Hawks. The Pacers series was great, and I think they'll just build on that, and people will get more excited. I already see more Hawks shirts around than I've seen in a long time.

Travis: Are you a Spurs fan?

Craig: I'm still mad about June 18th, 2013.

Travis: Oh, man. It always comes back to Game 6.

Craig: When I was a kid my dad took me to the Virgin Islands because I wanted to see where Tim Duncan grew up. I've always liked Tim, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and was a huge David Robinson fan.

One of my best memories was the 2003 Western Conference Finals. It was just my dad and me and it was the first trip where I got to see the whole series, just by ourselves. I remember Game 6 and Steve Kerr just went off and going into the locker room after the game and watching the Spurs as they celebrated.

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After that we started going to the WCF every time the Spurs were in it, so yes, I'm a huge Spurs fan.

Travis: Tell me about your interview with Popovich after your dad's announcement. Were you nervous?

Craig: Absolutely. On a scale of 1-10, I was a 10. The thing was, in the beginning no one knew I was there. My dad, family, friends, nobody knew. They were telling me from the studio "don't worry, it's gonna be taped so if you mess up we'll just do it again." I met privately with Popovich and he told me he wanted to do it the same way he'd do the interview with my dad and my head started spinning. Then Ernie Johnson announced it was going to be live and I had to sit there all game with my phone blowing up, knowing that everybody was now watching.

I've watched sideline reporters for years so I know what kind of grief they take if they mess up, and I was about to have to do it live. I've seen people criticize my dad and now I knew I was going to interview Gregg Popovich live, in front of cameras on national TV.

But having asked questions in press conferences before I know that as soon as the mic is in your hand it's time to go. It's time to get in the mode and get the job done. So I did it.

Travis: Well, I can say for sure you certainly looked poised. In fact, I think Popovich looked more nervous than you did. He was out of place, without the luxury of playing "Grumpy Pop."

Craig: Yeah, I can understand how he doesn't like that stuff. But what people don't know is that he's such a great guy. People know that he's such a great leader of the Spurs franchise, but he's also a great guy.

Travis: Oh I agree. So what was the aftermath like?

Craig: You know I didn't realize how much it meant to my dad until I saw him later. It was a great moment.

Travis: Anything negative?

Craig: One guy said I looked like the biggest pot head he'd ever seen.

Travis: Oh that's nothing. I once had a guy tell me that I'm better suited writing dime-store romance novels than trying to cover sports. Come to think about it, he's pretty spot on.

So with such great news and progress that your dad has made, can we hold out hope that we'll see him on the sideline anytime soon?

Craig: We will find out later this week if he has a bone marrow match, which will be key. We have a 50% match for him now, his older sister, but we'll find out on Thursday or Friday if we have anything at a higher percentage. If so, he'll go into surgery soon after that. So if all goes well, yes, he could be back fairly quickly. I know that's where he wants to be, more than anything.

Travis: Well your dad's strength and courage in the performance of his job and in dealing with his illness is an inspiration to a guy like me, and everyone really. Please tell him we're all pulling for him.

Craig: I will.

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Sometimes its best to play things safe. Sometimes prudence is the better form of valor.

But sometimes you've just gotta pound three Bud Lights and whip Steve Kerr's ass on a golf course in San Antonio on an early summer day. Or maybe you find yourself walking eight miles through the desert night after partying with Charles Barkley, knowing that you'll have one helluva story to tell.

And sometimes you unexpectedly find that mic in your hand and no matter how nervous you are, you go out and do your job. That's what the Sager's do.

Craig Sager and prudence have never crossed paths. And after talking with Craig Sager Jr. on Saturday afternoon I can honestly say that he proudly carries his father's fearlessness.

It's a lesson for all of us really. Many talk about seizing the day, but few do it as well as the Sager men. Craig Jr. told me he started playing football because he didn't make the basketball team his freshman year. Now he's blazing his own trail, often in anonymity, which is just how he wants it. And chances are we'll see his father strolling the sidelines of the NBA Playoffs again soon, in the craziest suit imaginable, prudence be damned.

Craig Sager earns his living on the sidelines but he's obviously never lived his life from there. He seizes every day and wins the night. Here's to seeing him doing his job again soon, and then wearing out his son and Steve Kerr on the golf course or in Vegas when the cameras are off.

Carpe diem and God speed, Craig. Both of you.

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