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Gregg Popovich, Earl Watson mourn Craig Sager’s death

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t one to smile during a midgame interview. Craig Sager, who died Thursday after a long, public battle with leukemia, had the rare ability to bring joy out of the San Antonio coach in the middle of a game.

The NBA’s most famous sideline reporter was a symbol of the league that has thrived promoting individuality of its players and its reporters — and his death hit the community hard.

Popovich, in his first availability since the news of Sager’s death broke, offered one brief statement with the media as his Spurs prepared to take on the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.

“I guess on a day like this, basketball has to take a backseat as we think about somebody who is very unique, very special. Whether you really knew Craig or not, you got the feeling that he was a special person in a lot of different ways. And right now I feel for his family,” Popovich said. “To talk about being a professional or good at what he did is just a tremendous understatement. All of us who knew him understood that that fact was what he was all about as far as work was concerned.

“He was a way better person than he was a worker, even though he was amazing in that regard. He loved people — he enjoyed pregame, during games, postgame, he loved all the people around it. Everybody felt that. So, the most amazing part of him is his courage. What he’s endured, and the fight that he’s put up, the courage that he’s displayed during this situation is beyond my comprehension. If any of us could display half the courage that he has to stay on this planet to live every (day) as if it’s his last, we’d be well off. We all miss him very much.”

Phoenix coach Earl Watson, who played in the NBA for 13 years, called Sager a “genius.”

“Every genius …. they’re not afraid of being who they are,” Watson said. “He was a genius at his job, a genius at everything he’s done.  We all embraced him. It’s like a great quote, I don’t know who said it: ‘Be who you are, the world will adjust.’ And he’s the greatest example of that.”

Suns guard Devin Booker honored Sager by wearing a Sager Strong t-shirt during his warmups.

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