Col­or­ful NBA re­porter Sager dies of cancer

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

HOUS­TON: Craig Sager never once thought about giv­ing up as he bat­tled cancer for more than two years. “Man, life is too beau­ti­ful, too won­der­ful, there’s just too many things,” he said in late Au­gust from a Hous­ton hos­pi­tal bed. “It’s not just you. It’s your fam­ily and kids and all. Fight. Fight un­til the end. Fight as hard as you can.”

The end for the beloved TNT broad­caster came Thurs­day when the man known as much for his out­ra­geous wardrobe as his re­la­tion­ships with the NBA’s elite suc­cumbed to an ag­gres­sive form of leukemia. Turner Sports an­nounced his death with­out dis­clos­ing de­tails. He was 65 and had worked bas­ket­ball games for TNT for nearly a quar­ter-cen­tury.

“There will never be an­other Craig Sager,” Turner Pres­i­dent David Levy said. “His in­cred­i­ble tal­ent, tire­less work ethic and com­mit­ment to his craft took him all over the world cov­er­ing sports.”

His son, Craig Jr., posted a lov­ing video trib­ute to his fa­ther, tweet­ing: “We packed a life­time and then some into these 28 years to­gether.”

Sager’s pass­ing brought out con­do­lences from ev­ery cor­ner of the NBA and Hall of Famer Larry Bird ex­pressed what many were feel­ing.

“He was as iden­ti­fi­able with the NBA as any player or coach,” Bird said. “The league will not be the same with­out him.” Magic John­son echoed those sen­ti­ments on Twit­ter.

“The NBA fam­ily lost a leg­end who changed the way side­line re­porters did their job. RIP Craig Sager,” John­son said. It wasn’t just the NBA com­mu­nity that mourned his pass­ing , with Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Drake ex­press­ing sad­ness at the loss.

Sager had two bone mar­row trans­plants with his son as the donor be­fore un­der­go­ing a third one from an anony­mous donor four months ago.

He an­nounced in April 2014 that he had been di­ag­nosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and he missed the play­offs and much of the fol­low­ing sea­son as he un­der­went the first two trans­plants. Sager re­vealed in March 2016 that his leukemia was no longer in re­mis­sion. He said doc­tors told him the typ­i­cal prog­no­sis was three to six months to live.

He was over­whelmed by how news of his fight spread and peo­ple across the world started talk­ing about the Sager Strong cam­paign.

His bat­tle brought out the soft side of Gregg Popovich, the prickly San An­to­nio Spurs coach with whom he had many mem­o­rable ex­changes dur­ing in-game in­ter­views.

Sager never faulted Popovich for his gruff attitude dur­ing those in­ter­views. Af­ter learn­ing Sager had died, Popovich spoke somberly for nearly two min­utes be­fore a game in Phoenix.

“If any of us can dis­play half the courage he has to stay on this planet, to live ev­ery life as if it’s his last, we’d be well off,” Popovich said.

Sager sported suits in ev­ery color of the rain­bow and plenty of shades not found in na­ture, from teal to fuch­sia to ma­genta. He would match plaid blaz­ers with pais­ley ties or striped shirts - all in bold hues.

Some­times lost in the glare of his wardrobe was Sager’s re­lent­less na­ture as a re­porter. Ev­ery time Popovich would give a terse nonan­swer, an un­fazed Sager would pep­per him with an­other ques­tion.

Sager’s per­sis­tence was on dis­play at the start of his ca­reer at age 22. Work­ing for a Braves-af­fil­i­ated AM ra­dio sta­tion in Sara­sota, Florida, he hopped a flight to Atlanta for a game with Hank Aaron a home run away from break­ing Babe Ruth’s ca­reer record. Af­ter Aaron hit the homer, Sager sprinted onto the field and wound up chas­ing Aaron down the third-base line. When Aaron’s team­mates mobbed him at home plate, Sager can be seen in his trench coat in the mid­dle of the scrum.

Sager worked as a re­porter on the Olympics, Ma­jor League Base­ball play­offs, the NFL and the NCAA Tour­na­ment, among other sports. But he was in­deli­bly con­nected to the NBA.

“Craig was as vi­tal to the NBA as the play­ers and coaches,” Sil­ver said. “Craig earned wide­spread re­spect for his in­sight­ful re­port­ing and in­spired so many most re­cently with his courage.” Sager got to cover his first NBA Fi­nals in 2016 through an un­usual ar­range­ment be­tween TNT and ESPN, which in­vited him to join its cov­er­age. He marked the oc­ca­sion by wear­ing a blazer with a royal blue flo­ral print. In an in­ter­view with LeBron James af­ter Game 6, the Cava­liers star turned the ta­bles to gid­dily ask Sager a ques­tion: “How in the hell do you go 30-plus years with­out get­ting a Fi­nals game?”

A na­tive of Batavia, Illi­nois, Sager at­tended North­west­ern, where he walked onto the foot­ball and bas­ket­ball teams, and served as the school’s “Wil­lie the Wildcat” mas­cot for three years.

He worked at sev­eral TV and ra­dio sta­tions in Florida af­ter col­lege be­fore spend­ing two years in Kan­sas City. Sager joined CNN in 1981 af­ter han­dling the net­work’s first live re­mote re­port dur­ing the 1980 base­ball play­offs. — AP

HOUS­TON: In this April 4, 2016, file photo, Craig Sager speaks be­fore the NCAA Fi­nal Four tour­na­ment col­lege bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onship game be­tween Vil­lanova and North Carolina in Hous­ton. Sager, the long­time NBA side­line re­porter fa­mous for his flashy suits and prob­ing ques­tions, has died af­ter a bat­ter with cancer, Turner Sports an­nounced Thurs­day. He was 65. — AP

HOUS­TON: In this May 12, 2015, file photo, broad­caster Craig Sager, left, talks with Los Angeles Clip­pers’ Glen Davis prior to Game 5 of the NBA bas­ket­ball West­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals against the Hous­ton Rock­ets in Hous­ton. — AP

MIL­WAU­KEE: Mil­wau­kee Bucks’ Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo and Jabari Parker wear shirts to honor NBA broad­caster Craig Sager who died ear­lier be­fore an NBA bas­ket­ball game against the Chicago Bulls Thurs­day, in Mil­wau­kee. — AP

MIL­WAU­KEE: Mil­wau­kee Bucks’ Jabari Parker wear a shirt to honor NBA broad­caster Craig Sager. — AP

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