By Will Dunham
(Reuters) – Dapper U.S. television sports broadcaster Craig Sager, who donned flamboyant outfits as he interviewed coaches and players during decades as an NBA sideline reporter and resolutely worked even during treatment for leukemia, has died at age 65, Turner Sports said on Thursday.
Sager covered an array of sports events, including the Olympics, but was most closely associated with National Basketball Association broadcasts.
While working for Turner Sports, Sager conducted sideline interviews for a quarter of a century with NBA stars including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry and coaches like Gregg Popovich, while clad in a collection of colorful clothing.
He was diagnosed in 2014 with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, and had bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy. The treatment forced him to miss the 2014-15 NBA season but he returned to work after getting a bone marrow transplant from his son, Craig Jr.
Sager disclosed in March that his cancer had returned and that doctors told him he had just months to live. He continued to work through the NBA playoffs, including the finals between the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in June, while undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“If I didn’t do this, I’d just be sitting in some hospital bed somewhere hooked up to some IVs, slowly withering away,” Sager told GQ magazine in May. “This keeps me going. This keeps me energized. It gives me hope.”
‘A TRUE ORIGINAL’
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Sager “as vital to the NBA as the players and coaches” and “a true original.”
“Craig earned widespread respect for his insightful reporting and inspired so many most recently with his courage,” Silver said in a statement.
Turner President David Levy said in a statement that while Sager would be remembered for his wardrobe and interviews, “it’s the determination, grace and will to live he displayed during his battle with cancer that will be his lasting impact.”
His suits, jackets and ties were a sea of canary yellow, fire-engine red, aqua, lilac, purple, royal blue, checks, plaids, paisleys, stripes, flower prints and indescribable patterns, sometimes off the rack and sometimes custom made.
“I like lots of color,” Sager told GQ. “And when I lay it out on my bed before I pack and go, it looks good. Now, when it gets on TV, sometimes it doesn’t match as well as I thought it did in my bedroom.”
Sager also covered Major League Baseball, the National Football League, World Cup soccer, college basketball, Wimbledon tennis, the Kentucky Derby, auto racing and more.
“Whenever Craig Sager is covering your game, you know it’s a big one,” James told Sports Illustrated in April.
Sager was remembered fondly on Thursday by current and retired NBA greats, media colleagues and even political leaders. Vice President Joe Biden called Sager “fearless and hopeful, a real hero.”
He interviewed Hank Aaron on the field after the baseball slugger’s record-setting 715th home run in 1974. He slept in a stall next to Seattle Slew the night before the horse won thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown in 1977. He said he talked eccentric NBA star Dennis Rodman out of committing suicide in 1993.
Rodman wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “Craig Sager thanks for saving my life when I was in dire need of help in Detroit back in 1993.”
Sager had five children from two marriages. His wife, Stacy, had been a member of the NBA Chicago Bulls dance squad.
(Reporting by Will Dunham in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)