MEETING CRAIG SAGER

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This past week, the late great legendary NBA sideline reporter, Craig Sager, sadly passed away after a long hard fought battle with cancer. This was a very special man, who literally and figuratively lit up NBA sidelines for years with his magnetic personality and outlandish, bright, neon-colored suits, which would eventually become synonymous with his name. His job was not an easy one, but as far as I’m concerned, there was no one better.  When coaches and players would approach him, angrily at times, to give their mandatory halftime interviews, Craig had the uncanny ability of being able to bring levity to those tense-filled situations.  I’m honored to say that in 2011, I had the incredible opportunity to meet Craig Sager at The Westin Hotel in Manhattan, the night of the NBA Draft.  Now. . . just simply the occurrence of meeting Craig Sager is certainly an impressive story in itself.  However, the unique way in which my family and I were able to meet him, makes the story all the more interesting, as the experience ended up hitting very close to home.

The night of the 2011 NBA Draft, my family and I were hanging out in the lobby of the Westin Hotel in midtown Manhattan, hobnobbing with the Who’s Who of the National Basketball Association. As we hung around the fancy lobby, enjoying the surreal experience of preparing for Jimmer to be drafted into the world’s most prominent basketball league, suddenly we saw a very familiar face approaching us. To our pleasant surprise, it was the world renowned sports reporter, Craig Sager. He introduced himself, telling us that he was a big fan of Jimmer, and that he had been looking forward to meeting him. We were thrilled to meet him as well, as we had always thoroughly enjoyed Craig and the entertaining ways in which he conducted his infamous sideline interviews. Then after a couple minutes of getting to know him a little bit, he hit us with a shocker, revealing to us that one of his best friends was actually from Glens Falls, NY – our hometown. We obviously thought that that was pretty cool, and it opened up the conversation to some nostalgia as we discussed his experiences with our small town, such as the lifechanging moment when he had the privilege of enjoying a Dirty John’s hotdog (anyone from the Glens Falls area knows what that’s all about). Then what Craig Sager did next, would surely become the favorite of my Jimmer draft night stories. He told us that he had a surprise for us, and that if we could wait right where we were for a moment, he would be right back with the surprise. Well, of course the opportunity to receive a surprise from Craig Sager was reason enough for us to stay put. So we anxiously waited for Craig to return with this mysterious surprise. After waiting for a while, it got to the point where Jimmer was becoming crunched for time, as he had a very strict schedule to keep. Jimmer told us that he was gonna have to leave, but that we should tell Craig it was great meeting him and he was sorry he couldn’t stick around for the surprise. Then right as Jimmer was about to take off, suddenly we hear this loud chant coming from down the hallway…  JIM-MER! JIM-MER! JIM-MER! Stunned by the unusual turn of events, all eyes in the lobby were immediately fixated on the long string of red-shirted Jimmer fans, chanting his name as they made their way towards him. But the best thing about this forever memorable moment, was when we realized who it was that was leading this spirited charge. As we looked on collectively with the rest of the crowded lobby, we suddenly came to the realization that it was Craig Sager himself, chanting Jimmer’s name as he sported a bright red Glens Falls Nation T-shirt. He had met up with his good friend and the large Glens Falls contingency to show Jimmer support on his big day.

What a phenomenal memory Craig Sager left us with on that special night. He was such a kind-hearted man, and to me, his amazing display of support for my little brother, who he had never met before, spoke volumes about his character. With this very kind act, he surely forever etched a special place in my heart. He was an incredible man, and he will definitely be greatly missed. So I just wanted to take this time to share this wonderful memory that Craig left me and my family with, and also offer my sincere condolences to the Sager family. Rest in peace Craig, we all love ya. Thank you so much for the memories.

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MEETING BILL WALTON

jimmer-bill-walton-maxLast week I mentioned that my brother recently had the opportunity to catch up with former Celtic great and NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton (who you can see in this picture that Jimmer recently sent me), decked out in his trademark tie dye tee-shirt as he stands next to Jimmer and his never hard to find 7 foot 3 inch teammate – who I know simply as Max. What I didn’t tell you about, was the unforgettable time when I myself had the opportunity to meet big Bill Walton in the tunnel at the old Arco Arena in Sacramento.

One of the many cool things about having a brother in the NBA is that when you go to the games, you get to enter the arena through the same tunnel that the players run through to take the floor. Never one to get star-struck myself, I grew pretty accustomed to walking shoulder to shoulder with some of basketball’s finest superstars such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. In fact, when walking out of the tunnel to take my seat at these NBA games, I never knew who I might run into. Occasionally, celebrities ranging from Floyd Mayweather(who is a regular at NBA arena’s), to Drake, to Ben Stiller would stroll past me. My walks through the tunnel also would provide me with some pretty cool experiences, such as –
physically running into Russell Westbrook (who was very gracious, saying excuse me when he nearly ran me over in the hallway), to hanging out with MMA
star Urijah Faber, to even having a great conversation with New York City native and NBA strongman Ron Artest. However, with all of these really cool experiences that I was able to have in the tunnel, I would have to say that the coolest of these experiences, was the time that I met my man Bill Walton.

I remember when Jimmer was with the Kings, before one of his games I was chatting with one of the friendly security staff members at Arco Arena, when all of the sudden I heard this extremely familiar voice echoing throughout the tunnel. I turned around to see who it was, and right there standing in front of me was the legend himself – the one and only former Celtic superstar Big Bill Walton. He was coming up to shake the staff members hand whom I was speaking with, before taking to the court to call the game – as one of the Kings TV announcers. After the greeting, this staff member who I’d grown to know well, was gracious enough to introduce me to Bill. Upon hearing that I was TJ Fredette – Jimmer’s older brother – you would have thought that I was the celebrity with the way Bill excitedly reacted. Bill reached out, gave me a long firm hand shake and a smile, and said to me – “So this is the great older brother I keep hearing about.” I guess it’s fair to say I was very taken back by Bill’s reaction to meeting me. Here he is, One of the greatest NBA players of all time, a Hall of Famer, and a legend. . . and he was excited to meet me?!

We continued from there to have a great conversation for the next 15 minutes or so, until a Kings PR person had to come up and tell Bill, he’d better hurry and get to the court before the game started. Bill proceeded to talk to me for another 5 minutes – to the point where I almost felt inclined to remind him he needed to get out to the court and get ready for the broadcast.

Eventually Bill did break away and take his place behind the scores table to call the game. But all I could think of after my conversation with him was… what an amazing guy. Even with the great level of status and celebrity that he has in NBA circles, this man not only gracious enough to take the time to go out of his way to talk to me, but he also made sure that he showed a genuine interest in me as a person. He could have easily just said hi and went on his way – but he didn’t. Instead he showed me the type of respect and personal attention that made me feel like I was special. Now that really says a lot about Bill Walton as a human being in my eyes. If only we all treated the people we meet on a regular basis with that same positivity and respect, regardless of who they are and what they have accomplished in their life. I know that if we all did, this world would be such a better place.

Soon after I took my seat for the game that night, I received a text message from one of my friends who was watching the game back home. It turns out that Bill had also met the rest of my family that night in the tunnel, and when he took the air to call that game, one of the early statements that he made on air, was this – “I just had the  opportunity of meeting Jimmer Fredette’s family including his older brother TJ in the back tunnel, and I must say – it was one of the greatest moments in my life. What a special family.”

Now I know that Bill was only joking when he said “it was one of the greatest moments in his life,” and it was certainly just said in fun, but the fact is, the man displayed incredible class with how he treated us, and he left my family and I with a wonderful memory – that we will surely never forget.

Jimmer Update – Career high 51 pts.

Around 4:30 A.M. this past Friday morning (5:30 P.M. Shanghai time), while I laid fast asleep in my bed, my little brother Jimmer was just leaving his apartment in Shanghai to go to the nearby Pudong Yuanshen Gymnasium, where his Shanghai Sharks would soon be taking the court to battle the widely revered Guangdong Southern Tigers. As Jimmer stepped out of his apartment, walked by the stray dog that hangs out in front of his building (which he has named Hufflepuff), and entered the car which was ready and waiting to take him to the arena, he mentally went into his zone, focusing on nothing but the game. With a team featuring 3 very formidable former NBA players in Donald Sloan, China’s renowned Jianlian Yi, and former two time NBA All-Star (as well as Jimmer’s former Chicago Bulls teammate) Carlos Boozer, Jimmer knew that the Tigers would be his biggest challenge yet in his overseas career. When Jimmer entered the  Arena, he could tell that the vibe was very different than on any other game night up to that point. There was the kind of buzz in the air that only can truly be felt when a major event is about to take place. Jimmer is no stranger to that kind of buzz, and possibly more than anything else, it is that very kind of fuel that feeds him as an elite athlete.

So once this highly anticipated match up began, the 4,000 plus fans (just short of the arena’s maximum capacity) would waste no time in expressing their excitement with each Shark basket. Jimmer started out very patiently, similar to a boxer feeling out his opponent in the early rounds of a fight. With a bigger defender draped all over him by design, Jimmer had to strategically lull his defender to sleep before exploding towards the ball, creating just enough separation to receive passes from his teammates. After getting into the lane, creating contact, and working his way to the free throw line a couple times, Jimmer started to heat up. Then midway through the first quarter, Jimmer dribbled off of a screen and hit a tough, highly contested 3 from the top of the key. One possession later. . . Jimmer dribbles up on a fast break, stops on a dime, and sinks another contested 3 from the right wing. The crowd eats it up. They were absolutely loving it, and after Jimmer’s 2nd consecutive 3 pointer, you could hear the crowd gasp with anticipation the next time the ball was in his hands. So in typical Jimmer fashion, with the momentum all on his side and an arena full of fans ready to explode, he shows Shanghai where the term Jimmer range came from, as he pulled up and stuck a 3rd consecutive 3 pointer, this one from well beyond the ark, bringing the shark fans to their feet.

From that point on, Jimmer never let up. His dazzling drives to the basket and eye popping 3 pointers excited the crowd all night long, as Jimmer helped lead his team to a 111 – 88 victory over the Tigers, with a career high 51 points! By the end of the night, the fans were chanting MVP each time that Jimmer stepped to the foul line. Obviously this chant was all in fun, but even so, it certainly was a wonderful sign of respect, and a very congenial way for the fans to show how much they appreciated Jimmer’s amazing performance. Even NBA Hall of Famer and Celtic legend, Bill Walton, who was in the building enjoying the game Friday night, had to smile ear to ear as he watched Jimmer (who Bill knows well from his days announcing for the Sacramento Kings) put on a show. After the game, Bill, along with part time ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, who was also in attendance, came into the Sharks locker room to chat with Jimmer, and congratulate him on a job well done.  Jimmer also had the chance to catch up with his former teammate and friend Carlos Boozer, who has always been very supportive of him. Carlos joked with Jimmer that despite wanting to win the game, he couldn’t help but enjoy the great show that Jimmer put on for the hometown fans.

In the end, this incredible performance by Jimmer sparked feelings of nostalgia for me personally. From Jimmer’s 30 point performance against Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament – where he lead BYU to their first tournament win since the Danny Ainge era. . . to the 49 point performance against San Diego State, in what was at that time called the biggest game in Mountain West Conference history – and in my mind, the game that birthed Jimmermania. . . to his 52 point performance in Las Vegas against a New Mexico team that had beaten them twice already that season, to his 24 point performance as a Sacramento King against the Knicks at the Garden – the Mecca of basketball, where the lights shine brighter than anywhere else on the planet. . . to now. . . to now where Jimmer’s 51 point performance, in the biggest game in his career in China gave him a new career high, and a very meaningful victory. Now, if there is one thing that I’ve learned about my little brother – it’s that when the stage is at it’s biggest, and the lights are at their brightest. . . that is when Jimmer is at his best!

After winning another game last night (Sunday night) with a 37 point game from Jimmer, the Shanghai Sharks are now 6 and 0! How far can the sharks take it from here?  Stay tuned to find out.