As Sage Steele sat on the ESPN set, ready to cover Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the sound was deafening.
The mania. The mayhem. The magic. It was all around her.
Yet for some reason, with only three minutes to go until Steele went live on international television, her mind turned to something other than basketball.
It flashed back three decades to a 12-year-old girl — a painfully shy 12-year-old girl — sitting at the dinner table, telling her family that someday she would be on ESPN.
“I just took a deep breath and said, ‘Smell the roses. Appreciate where you are,’ ” Steele recalls thinking before tipoff. “Why me? Why did it work for me? It could have a been a million other women and men.”
Why Steele? It’s an answer that’s easy to come by. Spend even a few minutes with the fast-talking, funny, humble ESPN anchor and her spirit is infectious.
While she was back in Indianapolis last week — to be the keynote speaker at Forest Manor Multi-Service Center’s Champions Awards Luncheon — The Star caught up with the Indiana University graduate turned sports broadcasting superstar.
Steele was raw, honest and, at times, completely off the cuff. She also was completely unpretentious.
As the host of NBA Countdown on ESPN Fridays and Sundays — and with 142,000 followers on Twitter — Steele has the limelight directly on her. But she says she has purposely chosen to not change who she is or forget where she came from.
“That’s how I was raised,” said Steele, a 42-year-old mother of three with husband Jonathan Bailey. “And if I did change and if my head did get big, I would have the longest line of people waiting to kick my ass.”
Growing up an Army brat
Childhood for Steele meant moving from city to city, state to state, country to country, wherever her father was stationed in the U.S. Army.
“By the time I was 11, I had lived in three other countries. My field trips would be the Acropolis in Greece, going to Paris with my Girl Scout troop.”
She had friends who were Belgian, French, Norwegian and Turkish.
“We were so worldly, but with that, we were sheltered. The military is so accepting racially and culturally. It didn’t matter that my mom was white and my dad was black. It was an easy, wonderful life.”
Achieving the dream
When 12-year-old Steele announced her ESPN dreams at the dinner table, it was a shock. Steele was so shy that her parents had actually consulted with doctors to make sure there wasn’t something wrong with their daughter. Steele wasn’t particularly athletic. She ran track in junior high and high school and she competed in equestrian. But she loved sports and she knew sports.
“It’s ironic how it all turned out. I can’t believe that little old me, who was too shy growing up, somehow I overcame it. Yes, by my own strength and hard work. But I’ve had a ton of people caring for me. I’m overwhelmed sometimes.”
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