Longtime Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager died Thursday from acute myeloid leukemia. He was 65.
Turner Sports announced the news with the following statement from Turner President David Levy:
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver also released a statement:
Sager was originally diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a form of cancer that interferes with the development of blood cells, in April 2014. The illness forced him to miss the entire 2014 NBA playoffs and part of the 2014-15 season.
The veteran sideline reporter returned to his usual role the following March after his cancer went into remission. A short time later, his son, Craig Sager II, announced the leukemia had returned.
Once again, Sager was forced to miss an entire playoff journey, a time he once described as his "favorite time of year—city to city, round by round, 40 games in 40 nights."
The beloved Illinois native and Northwestern graduate was released from the hospital in early October 2015 after being cleared. He returned to the sideline once again as part of the NBA on TNT crew for the 2015-16 campaign.
As the regular season neared its conclusion, Sager stated in an interview with HBO's Real Sports that doctors informed him in February his cancer was no longer in remission (via ESPN.com):
That's what I asked. What are my chances? How long do I have to live? Is there a cure? They talked in terms -- everybody is totally different. I go, 'I know, what are the chances?' And (the doctors said), 'Well, you've normally got 3-6 months to live. But somebody may have only a week. ... Somebody, it could be five years. You could be the person with the five years.'
I go, 'Well, whatever it takes, let's get doing it.' I'm not going to be that 3-6 months. I'm going to be that five years. I think we're going to make medical history.
While noting doctors gave him clearance to keep working, he added: "Still kicking, still fighting. I haven't won the battle. It's not over yet. But I haven't lost it, either. There have been some victories and some setbacks, but I still have to fight it. A lot of work to do."
As he began his 2016 playoff trek around the country, he spoke with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated about the situation. One passage from the cover story really showcased the delicate nature of his health as he continued to work:
He is waiting on a phone call, and as he admires the gold crystals in his tie, he is interrupted by a shrill ring. "I think that's the doctor," Sager says. He excuses himself to the living room of the Park Suite and picks up. "What are my platelets today? They're four today? O.K. What's normal? 140? O.K. No, it doesn't surprise me. I understand. I'm fine. I feel good. Don't worry. I'm used to this." He hangs up. "My platelets are at four!" he announces, with a grim laugh. "If I got cut right now I could bleed to death."
Though Sager is known mostly for his time with the NBA on TNT, he also covered sports for CNN as well as numerous major events, including the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, the World Series and March Madness, for various outlets during a media career than spanned more than four decades.
He often attracted attention due to his eccentric, colorful suits, but his unique clothing style didn't take away from the fact he was one of the best at his job.
That's why he was one of the few reporters to get genuine emotion out of San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who is notoriously off-putting during mid-game interviews. Popovich explained his respect for Sager during a conversation with HBO:
Ultimately, while his work attire made him an easy target for good-natured ribbing, it became clear how much his colleagues and people around the NBA cared about him.
His passion for basketball always shined through, even during those awkward interviews with Popovich that often featured one-word answers from the Spurs coach. He was always at the top of his game, regardless of the challenges he faced away from the court.
There are a lot of sideline reporters, and most of them do a solid job. But finding another one with more personality, flair and love for the game than Sager is an impossible task.