Sage Steele knows a thing or five about sports. The former SportsCenter anchor and current NBA Countdown host has made talking shop about basketball her livelihood, especially after her deferred dreams of being an athlete. Now, the curly-haired pundit has been keeping tabs on the NBA Playoffs, sifting between what her heart (as a fan) says versus her mind (as a journalist). Regardless, throw any topic on the table and the University of Indiana alum is always game. Here, Steele locks in with VIBE to discuss the current state of the playoffs and her prediction for the conference finals.
VIBE: With Derrick Rose recently coming back into the fold, were you surprised by his performance thus far?
Sage Steele: I don’t know if “surprised” is the word. As a fan, I was relieved that he looked as close to the old Derrick Rose we have seen almost exactly three years since he initially hurt himself. When I saw that he was driving, penetrating, cutting and explosive, I was like ‘Yes! Okay!’ And now it changes everything for the Chicago Bulls. It’s been too long. Hopefully, it lasts.
What about the Houston Rockets’ performance? Some critics say that James Harden was initially carrying the team but now it looks like Houston is coming into its own on the court.
The Houston Rockets are a team that is not quite there yet. Again, you’re glad to see that they are taking care of business. Or maybe it’s just time and being able to have everybody there healthy. What they did this whole regular season was excellent. To me, [head coach] Kevin McHale was high on my list for “Coach of the Year.” I voted him third actually because of what he was able to do with what he had, and basically keep them in that [second and third] spot all season long. James Harden is playing out of his mind consistently so I really like this team. They are not my pick yet though.
Steph Curry has also been putting in work. How far do you see him and the Golden State Warriors going?
There’s my heart and then there’s my mind, which is a constant battle in my life. (Laughs) It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. I’d be thrilled to see it. I like the organization. I like the head coach. I like the players. I like the vibe, and I think people underestimate, though, just how difficult it was to get to this point. It wasn’t like you just walk in and it’s cake to be the number one seed.
There were systemic changes: whole new system, whole new coaching staff. And [Curry] had to convince these guys to trust them and buy in. Even if some of those guys weren’t happy about the firing of [former Warriors head coach] Mark Jackson, they bought in completely and so I just love this team, how they play and what they stand for this year. There’s still a part of me who can’t quite let go of the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have been The Warriors’ nemesis for years so getting to the finals, I should say you still have to go through the Spurs.
Can you see the Dubs and Spurs duking it out at the very end?
Oh yeah. And then I look at the way the Clippers are playing and I’m like, ‘Ha! Well, maybe.’ Good thing I don’t have any money on them because it would be a disaster but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the Spurs and the Warriors battling it out. It’s kind of what I hope happens.
Now we can’t forget the Cavs. Where does Cleveland fall in all of this?
I still think it’s so much about people accepting their roles. It seems like towards the end of the regular season, they really started to gel even more but it still bothers me that there doesn’t seem to be that full chemistry with Kevin Love and how he has worked into their system. We talk about that all the time on NBA Countdown about where is he in the fourth quarter. At the end of day, if he’s asked to sit in the fourth quarter and [the Cavs] can win a ring, I’m pretty sure he will be okay with it but in my mind, Kevin Love is too good of a player to not be in there come crunch time. I’m fascinated by the Cleveland Cavaliers but when they were quote-unquote struggling early on and LeBron James took that break, people panicked. [Even with] LeBron’s time with the Miami Heat, too. [The Heat] didn’t win it, but they ended up getting to the finals. It takes time, and if it doesn’t happen for them this year then l’m guessing it will happen next year. Kind of like it did in Miami—it just takes time. When you have that much talent, it’s going to happen, in my mind but Kyrie Irving has just been a stud. I love his game. It’s just cool that because of LeBron coming back, there’s more attention on the team and now, Kyrie is beginning to get the true love he deserves and has deserved for a while.
If you can pick one team to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy, who would it be today?
I change [my pick] everyday, so today, I’m saying the Warriors. I’m from Indiana and I am a Pacers fan. When your team is not in it, then you’re like, ‘Who do I really like as far as the people and the organization?’ As a fan, I’m all about the Golden State Warriors. And by the way, for people who say, ‘Oh my god, you’re a journalist. You cant be a fan.’ Guess what? If you’re in this industry, you began as a fan or I wouldn’t have ended up being a sportscaster. So it doesn’t mean I’m biased but it doesn’t mean I’m not a fan. It would make me smile to see the Warriors make it all the way.