Professional, prepared, preposterous

Published 9:47 am Saturday, December 24, 2016

You were right, Charles Dickens: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. What it’s also been is a wild ride, this 2016.

Somehow, I guess I’ve never been more prepared to flip my calendar for a New Year than I am right now because in my 60-plus years of living, I don’t think I’ve measured more time in what was lost than in what was gained.

And this year we lost a lot.

North Carolina gained a new governor and America, a new Commander-In-Chief. Fidel Castro, the last of the ‘Cold Warriors’ was laid to rest. Closer to home, the ol’ North State could almost claim a Super Bowl champ, as well as an NCAA championship. Almost.

Gone are a whole bunch of my favorites: Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Prince, Morley Safer, John Saunders, Glenn Frey of the Eagles band, Gordie Howe, Merle Haggard, and even an eastern North Carolina legend whom I didn’t know well, but who skated his way into a lot of hearts: Greenville’s own skateboard king, Dave Mirra.

Gone, but still here, is one of my favorite basketball players, Tim Duncan. “The Big Fundamental” they called the young man from the Virgin Islands because he possessed such a sound mind and high I.Q. for the game. It’s a rather boring nickname actually, but I liked it because if you know anything about playing the game – any game – the right way, it becomes self-explanatory. My favorite Duncan nickname is one by the man who recruited him at Wake Forest, former UNC-Wilmington coach Jerry Wainwright: “The Boy from St. Croix” – an homage to Duncan’s Caribbean home town.

They held a retirement ceremony for Duncan on Sunday in San Antonio, where he spent his entire 20-year pro career playing for the Spurs. During the ceremony the only coach Duncan ever had, Greg Popovich, talked about how every night during road trips whenever he went out to eat, Pop would leave a slice of carrot cake (Duncan’s favorite) outside the player’s hotel door; and he did that for 20 years, hundreds, tens of hundreds of road games! Why? Because it was something he promised Duncan’s late father, that he would take care of his son. I suppose that’s the best way for the coach and the player to go out: being remembered as father and son.

There was something else that occupied Popovich’s mind – and mine – this past weekend: the passing of Craig Sager. For those of you who watch televised NBA basketball on TNT you’re familiar with Sager’s rather “iconic and effervescent” wardrobe during his days as a sideline reporter. Sometimes he interviewed Popovich, and when paired together the two were almost always comical.

But things turned serious when Pop was asked to comment on his favorite foil a day after Sager’s death-too-soon last week; losing his battle with leukemia:

“On a day like this basketball has to take a backseat as we all think about somebody who was very unique, very special,” a somber Popovich intoned …“To talk about him being a professional and good at what he did is a tremendous understatement.

“He loved people. He loved the people around him, and everybody felt that. So, the most amazing part of him is his courage … If any of us could display half the courage he did to stay on this planet – to breathe every breath as if it’s his last – we’d be better off. I’ll miss him very much.”

“Time is something that cannot be bought. It cannot be wagered with God, and it is not in endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life,” Sager said when accepting ESPN’s Jimmy-V Award during last summer’s ESPY’s.

That was being “Sager-strong”: professional, prepared, preposterous.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.