Less than a year ago, things were looking bleak for Turner Sports NBA reporter Craig Sager.
While he was at a CBS/Turner seminar in New York, just days before he was set to travel to Omaha to cover the NCAA Tournament, Sager’s doctor recommended he not travel to the tournament after taking a bone marrow biopsy. The biopsy revealed that Sager’s leukemia had returned, mere days after he had returned to the airwaves on TNT. Looking death in the face, Sager underwent a clinical trial that resulted in him undergoing chemotherapy 24 hours a day for 14 straight days.
“There was a chance it might kill me, but if it didn’t, there was a chance to maybe go into remission,” Sager told Awful Announcing. “There were a lot of times there where it was touch and go, and it wasn’t easy. It hasn’t been easy, and it still isn’t, but I’m doing the best I can.”
Since his initial diagnosis nearly two years ago, Sager has been forced to change his lifestyle as one would expect.
“I don’t have the energy or strength to run like I used to,” said Sager. “They said it might take up to a year to get my full strength back. I’ve been riding an exercise bike and doing stuff like that so I can get my strength back. I’m back playing golf. I’m trying – it’s not the same nonstop, 24 hour a day, burning the candle at both ends like I used to, but I’m slowly getting all my strength back and getting better every day.”
When Sager was fighting his battle with leukemia, numerous people across the league reached out to him, including some names you may not expect.
“The first person to send flowers was Kevin Garnett. The day I was diagnosed, April 10th, 2014, I got flowers at home – the most beautiful bouquet you can imagine – from Kevin Garnett and his family. The Commissioner was going through all those problems with the Clippers ownership and Donald Sterling, and he calls me, and I go ‘you don’t have time to call me!’
“And he goes, ‘yes I do, you’re as big as anybody’. And I told him, ‘I appreciate your concern, but please do your job’. Coach Popovich reaching out, and the fans, and Bob Delaney, head of the referees, actually came to my house just to see me. It was unbelievable.”
Right after Sager’s diagnosis, he received a surprise when his son, Craig Sager Jr, appeared on a TNT broadcast to interview Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. He had no idea it was coming.
“It was unbelievable, especially because I didn’t know anything about it. I talked to him the night before in the hospital and all of a sudden I hear, ‘an interview with Gregg Popovich and Craig Sager Jr’, and I got nervous and excited. I was like a little kid at Christmas wondering what was going to happen. Coach Pop was tremendous, I thought Junior did a great job, and it was really touching. It was great for Turner Broadcasting to come up with the idea, and I thought it worked out great.”
But Sager will be working the NBA’s All-Star Weekend this year after missing last year. And as he told AA, it’s his favorite event of the year.
“I think it’s our marquee event at Turner. I really do. For me, it’s the biggest event I do all year. I look forward to it. Obviously, it’s our bread and butter, and I get excited about it. Certainly, it’s something I missed terribly a year ago. I’ve done every one since 1988.
“I enjoy every part of it – not only the game itself, but all the festivities, the practices, the Slam Dunk [contest], the 3-point [contest], the skills competition, the All-Star practices, the Rising Stars game, and the whole weekend. Everybody’s there – not just all the players, but all the coaches are there, and all the executives are there.
“The fans get so excited, and I really look forward to it. I try to get up and prepare and not only enjoy it, but I try as much as I can to do a good job. I take a lot of pride in being able to do it.”
When Sager wasn’t at the event last year, he missed the atmosphere most of all.
“Being at the practices, and talking with the guys before the game, and talking with them during the game – the whole atmosphere, you can’t create it. It’s great to do a regular season game and it obviously means a lot, and when we do the playoffs, all the strategy and excitement is at a different level, but just the atmosphere being at All-Star Weekend is second to none in my opinion.”
The weekend will also have a special twist for Sager – his kids will be involved with the festivities.
“The one thing that’s probably going to be most exciting for me is that Saturday night, my kids Riley (she’s 11) and Ryan (he’s 9) will be ballgirls and ballboys for the festivities – the Slam Dunk [Contest] and all that. We’ve been talking about it for a couple years, and now they’re the right age.”
Less than a year ago, Craig Sager didn’t know if he’d be on the sidelines of an NBA game ever again. This weekend, he’ll be covering his favorite event of the year. It’s an incredible recovery, given where his health was back in March when his leukemia resurfaced. Sager still needs to monitor his health and undergo regular examinations, but he’s finally back on the right track.