Sage Steele, one of ESPN’s most versatile hosts, and a face of the company’s NBA coverage, will wear many hats in Toronto for NBA All-Star Weekend.
Steele will host pregame and halftime festivities for the NBA All-Star 2016 Celebrity Game tonight (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) and on SportsCenter coverage throughout the weekend.
However, there is one role in particular that Steele holds near and dear to her heart: serving as an honorary coach in the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game.
As part of the NBA Cares All-Star efforts, 12 Special Olympics athletes from around the world will be joined by NBA legends and current and former WNBA players for the Fifth annual NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified® Basketball Game. This 40-minute demonstration game will take place on Saturday from Home Court at Centre Court in Enercare Centre. SportsCenter will air highlights of the game.
Steele took a few minutes before boarding a flight to Toronto to discuss an eventful – yet hectic – weekend ahead.
How did you get involved with Special Olympics Unified Sports?
I actually have my kids to thank for my involvement in Unified Sports. When we lived in Connecticut, they were nominated by their teachers to be involved in the program at their elementary school. At first, they were nervous to participate, simply just a fear of the unknown. But after their very first gathering, they were hooked.
It all culminated with a local Unified Sports Olympic Games, and I will never forget the smiles on the faces of my kids that day when they were running alongside the Special Olympians and celebrating with them once they crossed the finish line. I know for a fact that it forever changed my kids’ perspectives on others who may have physical or mental challenges. Now, they are the first in line to help those in need. It was an unforgettable experience for our entire family.
Why is this cause important to you?
It’s all about acceptance. It’s about accepting those around you who may be different. Some people never learn these lessons, but I feel fortunate that my kids were exposed to this at very young ages and now, they are able to influence other kids to help out as well. Priceless.
In what ways will you try to make an impact in your role as honorary coach?
Frankly, I just don’t want to get in the way! I’ll let my fellow coaches — aka the experts — take the lead. I plan to sit further down on the bench and communicate with the athletes. Ask them what they’re seeing from the other team, what they’d like to do more or less of, and give them a few pointers – you name it. These athletes are about as competitive as they get so I just want to help out. My kids have already made me promise to not scream as loud as I do when I’m at their games, so yes, I vow to be on my best behavior!
How do you keep yourself focused while wearing so many hats in so little time at All-Star?
Great question, one to which I don’t have an answer! I’m to the point that I can only take it one assignment, one live shot at a time or else I probably will get frazzled. Friday is the busiest day for me because it starts early in the morning with SportsCenter live segments and goes until early afternoon before I go straight over to Ricoh Center to host the pregame show for the NBA All-Star 2016 Celebrity Game, as well as halftime and the postgame trophy presentation. So – caffeine? Anyone?! Over the past several years, I have realized that I feel as if I am at my best when I have a lot on my plate, so this weekend definitely qualifies! Can’t wait!
Drake (leading rapper with a hometown advantage) or Kevin Hart (leading man in Hollywood and a Celeb Game veteran) – who has the coaching edge come Friday?
I’m a huge fan of both of these two, however, I’m picking Drake. Not only is he the hometown favorite (which means he will likely get some home-cooked calls by the officials), I think that when crunch time hits, Drake will be able to control his emotions slightly better than Mr. Hart! I’ve seen Kevin in action at this game over the past several years, so I will miss seeing him play, and I’m sure he will struggle to stay put on the sidelines. . . hopefully the officials are ready for what they’re about to experience with Kevin Hart!