Editorials

The Man Behind the Suit, Remembering the Late Craig Sager

The sports world mourns the loss of beloved NBA personality Craig Sager, this morning The Loop Sports takes a look back at the everlasting impression left by the colorful Sager.

On Thursday the sports world lost one of the more beloved personalities to ever grace an NBA sideline, when Craig Sager lost his courageous battle with Leukemia.

For those of you that do not know, Sager hails from Batavia, Illinois, a suburb outside of the Chicago-land area. Sager was a life-long fan of the Chicago sports landscape, even once he became a national fixture on Turner Sports NBA coverage.

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America
Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Born on June 29, 1951 in Batavia, IL, Sager attended Batavia High School before attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In 1973 Sager graduated from Northwestern with a Bachelors Degree in Speech, and even spent time as the university’s mascot, Willie the Wildcat.

Shortly after graduating Sager began his career in sports as a radio news director for WXLT in Sarasota, Florida, making just $95 dollars per week. In 1974 Sager was on the field in Atlanta when Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron hit his record-setting 715th home run, and Sager even attempted to get an interview with Aaron at home plate amidst the pandemonium.

Sager would join CNN in 1981, and earn his first accolade in 1985 when he was honored with a CableAce Award. From 1987 through 2016, Sager worked in various positions within Turner Sports, including his most prominent role, the NBA sideline reporter.

Sager has covered some of the most prominent sporting events to take place over the last 35 years, including the Goodwill Games, Pan American Games, Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, the PGA Tour, Notre Dame Football, Major League Baseball Playoffs, and years of National Basketball Association Playoffs.

In 2014 Sager was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and was forced to miss the entire 2014 NBA playoffs. Sager’s son Craig Sager, Jr. was deemed a match for a bone marrow procedure that would help save his father’s life. Craig Jr would undergo the transplant, helping push his father’s cancer into remission.

The entire basketball world sent Sager special get-well messages while he was hospitalized in 2014, including San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich who delivered his message through an in-game interview with Craig Sager, Jr. during a first round playoff game.

In March of 2016, Sager announced that his deadly cancer had come out of remission once again, and was given only three to six months to live without treatment. But even when staring an imminent death in the face, Sager would not allow the cancer to break his spirits. Long-time friend and Turner Sports colleague Ernie Johnson had this to say about Sager’s approach to his bout with cancer back in March of 2016,

“Craig through this whole thing has been remarkably upbeat,” Johnson said. “HBO’s Bernie Golberg did the story on him and Bernie came over to the house the other day to talk abut it. He knows I’ve been through my own cancer episode. He knows that Craig and I have been at Turner together for a long, long time. I told him the thing that’s amazing is that you’d stop by the hospital during the course of his treatment to try and lift him up and you;d walk away more inspired yourself. He had that positive vibe going. He was always Craig. He was always Sags every time that you’d see him. ”

Through the gift of an anonymous donor, Sager was able to receive the bone marrow transplant again. In November of this year, Sager was able to witness his beloved Chicago Cubs win their first World Series Championship in 108 years.

In July of 2016 Sager was honored with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance for his legendary will to live during his battle with cancer.

Source: Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America
Source: Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America

Famous for his colorful suits that could never live up to the brightness of his personality and his love for sports and the game of basketball, Sager was loved by everyone around the sports world. Sager loved covering his hometown Chicago Bulls, and the Bulls were scheduled to play against the Milwaukee Bucks on his long-time employer, TNT on Thursday night.

Sager would not be able to watch his Bulls play on TNT one last time, as he passed away in Atlanta, Georgia in the early morning hours of December 15, 2016. Sager leaves behind five children, as well as his legacy as one of the most beloved personalities in sports history.

His friend Ernie Johnson, who has also had a fight with cancer, wrote and narrated the most eloquent obituary and tribute of them all on Thursday evening’s NBA on TNT broadcast. Watch the touching tribute from Johnson and the rest of the NBA on TNT cast below.

 

Watch as Rachel Nichols of ESPN struggled to break the news of the passing of the legendary Craig Sager, and then turned her afternoon NBA round-table “The Jump” into a tribute to the late Sager.

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