Legendary sports broadcaster Craig Sager died today after a two-year battle with leukemia. He was 65.
Over the course of his 40-plus year career, Sager established a reputation as a go-to sideline reporter, beloved by fans, players, and coaches for his professionalism, affability, and love of the game. He was also, of course, known for his suits, full of boldly envisioned color pairings and flamboyant flourishes. Any given Thursday Sager might appear in a billowing pink suit or a paisley blazer; on Christmas, he might ratchet it up with a snowman plushy dangling where a tie normally would. The suits were corny, but part of Sager’s appeal was as a consummate broadcaster—he took the ribbings from the studio crew and coaches with characteristic good humor, always countering with another clean, insightful question.
After decades as a fixture of basketball journalism, the NBA responded en masse when, in 2014, Sager was diagnosed with leukemia. His fellow broadcasters donned their most garish suits in a show of solidarity, and the legendarily terse Spurs coach Gregg Popovich issued a rare mid-game address through the camera wishing Sager a speedy recovery. Upon Sager’s return to work, thanks in part to a bone marrow transplant from his son, fans waved “Sager Strong” signs as the reporter steadily continued wrangling the most out of coaches and players during the brief, mandatory interviews. Popovich even welcomed him back, saying, “I gotta honestly tell you, this is the first time I’ve enjoyed doing this ridiculous interview we’re required to do, and it’s because you’re here and you’re back with us. Now ask me some inane questions.”
While best known for his work during TNT’s long-running deal with the NBA, Sager also provided coverage for CNN, TNT, TBS, and CBS throughout his career, on sports including baseball, football, golf, tennis, curling, skiing, and more. This year, he was loaned to ESPN to cover the NBA Finals—the first in his storied career, thanks to weird NBA broadcasting rules—a fact which lead that series’ MVP, Lebron James, to pause an interview and exclaim, “How in the hell did you go 30-plus years without getting a Finals game?” And in July, Sager was awarded the Jimmy V Perseverance award at the ESPY Awards by Vice President Joe Biden, after which he gave a moving speech embracing life and expressing an ultimate optimism in the fight against cancer.
In detailing the things that gave him strength, he also detailed the sort of life he had lived:
I have run with the bulls in Pamplona. I have raced with Mario Andretti in Indianapolis. I have climbed the Great Wall of China. I have jumped out of airplanes over Kansas. I have wrestled gators in Florida. I have sailed the ocean with Ted Turner. I have swam the oceans and the Caribbean. And I have interviewed Gregg Popovich—mid-game, Spurs down 7. If I’ve learned anything through all this, it’s that each and every day is a canvas waiting to be painted.
After his third bone marrow treatment in September, he told the AP:
Man, life is too beautiful, too wonderful, there’s just too many things. It’s not just you. It’s your family and kids and all. Fight. Fight until the end. Fight as hard as you can.