Craig Sager is known throughout the NBA and the sports world for his flashy colorful suits and his fun-loving approach to the game, but his life behind and beyond the microphone is just as eye-popping as his sideline attire. Following the recent announcement by his son, Craig Sager Jr. that his father is battling leukemia, sports fans worldwide took a deep breath, pausing for a moment in thought about the man who has so vibrantly jumped off the television screen for so many years. “My favorite time of year — city to city, round by round, 40 games in 40 nights. A dramatic turn has matched me with acute myeloid leukemia. From the sidelines to being sidelined, 40 veins and 40 electrolytes,” Sager said in a statement released through Turner Broadcasting.
One of his all-time great moments came very early in his career. The date was April 8, 1974 and a man named Hank Aaron stepped up to the plate, tied with the legendary Babe Ruth on the all-time homerun list and drove a pitch from Dodger’s pitcher, Al Downing over the left field wall, landing in the mitt of bullpen pitcher, Tom House. Jubilation ensued and fans raced around the bases with Aaron, while a young 22-year-old graduate from Northwestern University named Craig Sager followed the new home run king down the third baseline, and greeted Aaron along with a swarm of players at home plate. “I don’t like to think that I had peaked at twenty-two, but it would be hard to top a moment like that,” Sager said, when asked about his greatest moments. Even as a young reporter, based out of Sarasota, Florida at the time and making $95 per week, Sager stood out amongst the crowd in a flashy white suit and shaggy brown hair.
The majority of Craig Sager’s professional life has been standing behind the microphone, but one memorable night in 1977 had him go beyond the famous racetrack at Belmont, where Sager found himself curled up in a barn with Triple Crown contender, Seattle Slew. “I had no place to stay and not enough money for a hotel,” he said. “But I’d become friends with the guy who cleaned his stall.” So there slept Sager, along with the great Seattle Slew, who would go on to complete one of the greatest feats in all of sports, the Triple Crown.
Craig Sager will be missing from this year’s NBA Playoffs, while fans, reporters and athletes sport Sager-inspired suits and offer their heartfelt wishes, including San Antonio Spurs head coach, John Popovich who said “we miss you, you have been a very important part of all of this for a very long time,” in an interview with Craig Sager Jr. on Saturday night. For many years, Craig Sager has been a staple for TNT and TBS, and while friendly jabs from fans and colleagues has become the norm, everyone is aware of his contributions to the sporting world. His professional appeal behind the microphone goes way beyond the loud suits, and his life outside the lines has provided us with visions of a man sleeping beside a famous race horse on the night before a big race and more images of a man joining the mayhem at the exact moment that one of baseball’s greats went from second place, to being crowned the new home run king.
Commentary by Johnny Caito