For many years, people tuned in to watch Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett and many other National Basketball Association players on the “NBA on TNT” and NBA TV broadcasts. Viewers, though, might have been asking “What will Craig Sager be wearing tonight?”
Sager, who died on Thursday at 65 after a lengthy battle with leukemia, was not just well known for his colorful sideline attire. He was a consummate broadcaster, keeping up with statistics, knowing and following what actually was going on in the game … and garnering in-game interviews with coaches such as San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Sager knew the NBA, and the sports world itself, as thoroughly as anyone. He was part of CNN’s “Sports Tonight” team of broadcasters back in the 1980s and ‘90s – a team which included Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, the late Nick Charles, Fred Hickman and many others – and worked primarily for Turner Sports throughout his on-air career.
It was his personal fight, though, with leukemia which brought many more people and fans to his side.
Official word of Sager’s death came from Turner President David Levy.
One of his sons, Craig Sager II, who served as a TNT sideline reporter during one of his father’s hospital stays, offered this tribute on Twitter.
— Craig Sager II (@CraigSagerJr) December 15, 2016
— Kacy Sager (@THESagerbomb) December 15, 2016
From the sports world, tributes poured in from the likes of Bryant.
“Time is simply how you live your life.” – Craig Sager. So grateful for the time you shared with all of us. RIP my friend #sagerstrong
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) December 15, 2016
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released the following statement regarding the passing of Craig Sager pic.twitter.com/vvayZfy7Re
— NBA (@NBA) December 15, 2016
Houston Rockets’ star James Harden.
Much love and respect to Craig Sager a true fighter and original…… SwaggChamp. RIP, WE LOVE YOU.
— James Harden (@JHarden13) December 15, 2016
Chicago Bulls’ star Dwyane Wade:
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) December 15, 2016
Thursday night, some NBA teams – like the Milwaukee Bucks – expressed their love and remembrance of Sager by wearing their “Sager shirts” during warm-ups.
Milwaukee Bucks players wore these shirts in honor of Craig Sager during warm-ups tonight. pic.twitter.com/KlX9RNQocP
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 16, 2016
Sager, whose career included time working for an Atlanta radio station, managed to be at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on an April night in 1974 … one in which he, and millions of other people watching on TV and listening on the radio, saw and heard Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Sager is shown here in this picture right next to Aaron at home plate (photo courtesy of Darren Rovell’s Twitter feed):
The Hustle: Craig Sager, 22, working for $95 a week for a radio station, was the closest to Hank Aaron after he hit #715. pic.twitter.com/gy0OwjuBYt
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 15, 2016
Earlier this year, Sager received The Jimmy V Foundation’s Jimmy V Perseverance Award on July 13. This was his speech, courtesy of ESPN:
With a twinkle in his eye, Popovich welcomed Sager back to the NBA sidelines in sweet style:
On Tuesday, Sager was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He was a graduate of Northwestern University and covered Triple Crown races, baseball games and everything in between.
Back in April, Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins wrote a story—with Sager himself on the iconic magazine’s front cover—which went into Sager’s life and career in great detail.
In his Jimmy V speech, Sager recalled his late-night walks from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he went for cancer treatments, and walking into Texas Children’s Hospital watching trains rolling on their tracks. He shared his heart and soul, what was on his mind during those walks, and what he noticed each time.
It would be hard-pressed to not think of the “NBA on TNT” team of Ernie Johnson Jr., Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and O’Neal himself and not include Sager in the mix. Johnson narrated this “In Memorium” piece which aired on Thursday night leading into their broadcast:
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 15, 2016
His absence from broadcasts was noticeable, bringing Johnson himself to tears when speaking of his friend and co-worker earlier this year.
Upon his return to the sidelines, NBA teams around the league would take a minute and recognize Sager. Fans rose and gave him standing ovations, and Sager would look around and wave to the crowd. Their show of support was not just about basketball … it was about life itself and Sager’s strong will to live.
Yes, Sager was a reporter and journalist. He was a hell of a lot more than colorful jackets and clothes. He was a family man (he leaves behind his wife, Stacy, and their family), father and, dare I say, warrior?
Sager’s public reflections on his private battle with leukemia have given millions of people hope. He fought the good fight until his death. Warriors are battle-tested and heart-tough. Few can doubt Sager coveted these qualities, along with a wondrous sense of grace and passion. He will be sorely missed for his sense of humor, openness and bravery.
Sometimes, life and sports cross paths and leave indelible marks upon people’s memories. Craig Sager will not be forgotten anytime soon because people who live their lives to the fullest are the galaxy’s brightest stars. They shine on forever.