Give ’em hell, Craig Sager: While We’re Waiting…

Craig Sager Gregg Popovich
Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

Happy Wednesday, Blawg Pound. You may notice that I’ve been away for a little while, in which case, hey guys, it’s great to be back and I missed you, too. You may not have noticed that, in which case, hey guys, get bent.

Ahem. I’ll just come right out and say that we might be getting into navel-gazing territory today. I’m often wary of doing so. There’s no Internet punching bag quite like millennials and/or thinkpieces, and I completely understand. You can only read about how Mr. or Ms. Twentysomething feels about the world so many times. A little buzzer goes off in my head every time I write one “I” too many. The greatest roadblock to me writing is always some version of oh hell, I don’t have anything to say and/or why in the sam hell would anyone care what I do have to say? There’s exactly nothing in the world about which I can be considered an authority. 

Navel-gazing was the plan, anyway, until some news broke that commanded greater attention. TNT sideline reporter extraordinaire Craig Sager’s cancer is back.1

Craig Sager Jr. announced Monday that his father’s cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, is no longer in remission. Remission, as anyone who’s been around cancer knows, rarely means you’re out of the woods. It just means, as I understand it, that the cancer isn’t any bigger. That’s usually a victory in and of itself, or at least a bright spot in an otherwise dark tunnel.

But it’s often a temporary respite. That’s where the Sager family is now. The cancer is back despite two stem cell transplants. In an interview with HBO’s Real Sports that aired Tuesday night, Sager Sr. revealed that his doctor estimated that he had 3-6 months to live. The doctor made it clear that it’s hard to tell with these things. Some people might have a week, the doc said. Others might have five years. Sager paid the most attention to that last part.

Just as the initial report of Craig Sager having cancer did, this news hit me hard. The reason Sager is so beloved, at least in my corner of the globe, is simple. He’s a happy guy, a likable guy, and he comes across as such. His credibility and success as a reporter (more on that in a moment) are a distant, distant second. There are plenty of successful people out there. I root for the ones who seem like decent people infinitely more. We’ve only got so much time on this rock. Ain’t no sense in being dicks while we’re here.

In short, when Craig Sager shows up on your television set, he’s offering a beautiful blend of serious and silly. That same mix permeates much of TNT’s NBA broadcasts, most notably with Ernie, Chuck, and the gang on Inside the NBA. They’ll get into analysis and all that, sure, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it. That’s what Sager’s suits are all about. You see the guy in a dreamcoat that would make Joseph himself blush and you chuckle, and you don’t even notice the broadcaster with four decades of experience adding to your viewing experience.

Lars Anderson wrote about Sager’s indomitable spirit and more indomitable wardrobe just over a year ago.

A native of Batavia, Illinois, Sager is the walking definition of a person who doesn’t take himself too seriously. As a student at Northwestern University, he was Willie the Wildcat, the football mascot. Fresh from graduating, he interviewed to become a weatherman at a small station in Tampa in 1974. Before his on-air tryout, he went to a Goodwill store and bought a blue, white and yellow seersucker suit. He wanted to stick out and be remembered—and he was. He landed the job but was told to ditch the flashy threads because the cameras couldn’t focus on them.

“The reason Craig has lasted so long is because he legitimately thinks he has the best job in the world and cares so much about it,” said Craig Barry, a senior vice president of production at Turner who has worked with Sager for a quarter-century. “He’s been like the Energizer Bunny: always going and always happy.”

When Sager started doing NBA sideline reporting for TNT in 1991—Sager, for the record, was the original NBA TV reporter on the sidelines—he once again wanted to make an impression. So he began wearing brightly colored suits.

“Sports are supposed to be fun, and so I have fun with the way I dress,” Sager said. “I used to get reprimanded, but then at the 2002 All-Star Game, commissioner [David] Stern was making fun of me and then his wife says, ‘David, stop that. I like those suits.’ And once I won the commissioner’s wife over, it all changed. It was a huge breakout moment.”

A word on Sager’s experience, as I didn’t know much about it until very recently. There’s much more to the Northwestern grad than absorbing jabs from Gregg Popovich. He started as a weatherman and he’s anchored studio shows. He’s called skiing and curling at the Winter Olympics. He’s worked a World Cup and a World Series. He slept in a stall next to Seattle Slew the night before the horse won the Triple Crown, and reportedly has a preserved piece of Slew’s poop at home. He has Jim McMahon’s headband with ROZELLE scrawled across the front. You’ve likely seen him in videos of one of sports’ most iconic moments.

See that guy in the long white coat trying to elbow his way into the fracas so he can get a word with Hammerin’ Hank? That’s Sager.

Some, like Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King, have sent Sager well wishes hoping for him to find peace. I say, respectfully and with apologies to those who have no use for coarse language, fuck that. Not because I don’t wish Craig Sager peace. Of course I do. It’s just that the peace can come later. Right now, it’s time to fight.

  1. If you’re still interested in the navel-gazing: I took a little time off from this here web space because, in short, real life got in the way. I’ll keep the details vague except to say that it had something to do with a gentleman in whose testicles I once resided and who I quite like. Our beloved Cleveland sports seemed awful dumb in comparison, loathe as I am to downplay the significance of earth-shaking happenings like the Cavs taking another dump in Miami or the Browns looking in vain for a shiny new signal-caller. (Or maybe one that’s picked up a few dings over the years.)

    The real-life things have gotten a bit better, so here I am.

    At risk of being too nihilistic, I’ve looked upon most sports-related things over the past week or so with a general attitude of, so what? This crap doesn’t matter. When something borderline serious pops up, sports really do strike me as the dumbest goddamn thing in the world. That’s what’s great about them, I suppose — we need an escape from our actual existence, the further removed the better — but it can also make one wonder if 1,200 words really need to be spilled on the Cavs’ lack of collective joy or some such topic. I don’t, it should be said, at all begrudge anyone who does such a thing. Lord knows I’ve worn out a keyboard writing about dumb things in the past.

    [this is the part where my attention turned to Craig Sager.] []