My oldest grandson, Matt, is a huge San Antonio Spurs fan. Matt lived with his parents Harry and Tina, here in Corpus Christi when he was younger. He grew up running around our house watching sports and fell in love with the game of basketball. He spent many days in the driveway shooting baskets with “Pa Pa” (that’s me). Eventually Matt’s sister Hannah was born while they lived here near Grandma and me. Harry would move his family, after Hannah was born, to Missouri to take another job, but Matt carried his love for the Spurs with him. Over the years, Grandma and I would save different things about the Spurs and send them to Matt.
In May of 2008, Matt visited Grandma and me. The Spurs were playing in the Western Conference semi-finals against the New Orleans Hornets. I called my pal Richard Oliver, who worked in the Spurs media department and asked if he could get me access to tickets to Game Six to be played on May 15, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. I wanted to surprise Matt as he had just recently turned 21 years of age. The answer came back “yes.” You should have seen the excitement on Matt’s face when I told him the news.
It’s about a 150-mile drive from Corpus to San Antonio, and we left early. We arrived early enough to find a great parking spot and entered the building early. I told Matt that I would purchase him one jersey of his choice from the team store for his birthday. He chose #20, Manu Ginobili. “He’s my favorite player,” said Matt. As we made our way to our seats we purchased a program. Guess who was on the cover, Manu Ginobili.
Our seats were outstanding and part of media row in the north end of the stadium, right below the TNT Television Center. Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Magic Johnson were on hand. But the best part was sitting between, Craig Sager on my left and Matt sat on my right. “Sags,” Craig’s nickname, was working for TNT and doing pre-game, halftime and post-game interviews. Between interviews he sat with us and watched the game like anyone else. I introduced myself and Matt, and then Matt had Sags autograph his program. We took a picture of Sags and then had Richard Oliver take a picture of Matt and me.
This was Game Six, and the Spurs were trailing the Hornets three games to two. A win that night would tie the seven game series. A loss would knock the Spurs out of the playoffs. The game was contested from the start. The Spurs were led by Tim Duncan, while the Hornets relied on Chris Paul to run their offense. Interestingly, both players played at Wake Forest University, Duncan from 1993-1997 and Paul from 2003-2005. Both would have loved to play with each other while in college, but now they were taking their shots at each other for an NBA title.
But this night belonged to Manu Ginobili who led the Spurs by scoring 25 points, while holding Paul to 21 points for the Hornets. The Spurs won Game Six, 99-80 to tie up the series, three games apiece. The Spurs would go on the beat the Hornets in Game Seven and face the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
Now as a writer I always look for the story behind the story. Here’s why I wrote this article. Besides being a good story and a great memory for Matt and me, I turned to Matt with about five minutes to go in the game and the Spurs ahead by 16 points. I said, “If we leave right now, we can be in the car headed home and hear the end of the game on the radio. Or we can stay until it’s over and it will take us 30 minutes or more to get to the car and we will not be home until between 2 and 3 PM.” “Let’s stay,” said Matt. So we stayed. Matt must have known something I didn’t. Guess who the player of the game was? Yep, it was Manu Ginobili.
So, now the word comes that Craig Sager has cancer and has been battling for his life for more than a year, while still trying to do what he loves best, covering NBA basketball. Prayers for Sags when you hit your knees tonight.