Craig Sager, Sideline Sage Of Hoops And Suits, Dies At 65 : The Two-Way The NBA sideline reporter was known for his outlandish wardrobe nearly as much as his broadcasting chops. But in his decades-long career, few could match either. He had been diagnosed with leukemia.
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Craig Sager, Sideline Sage Of Hoops And Suits, Dies At 65

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Craig Sager, Sideline Sage Of Hoops And Suits, Dies At 65

Craig Sager, Sideline Sage Of Hoops And Suits, Dies At 65

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager, a broadcaster nearly as famous for his on-air wardrobe as his basketball knowledge, has died at the age of 65. Sager spent two decades covering pro basketball on TNT. Off the court, he fought a very public battle with leukemia. NPR's Danny Hajek has this remembrance.

DANNY HAJEK, BYLINE: Argyle, paisley, floral, seersucker - name any pattern of fabric, Craig Sager had a suit to match. Friend and TNT colleague Ernie Johnson says he loved to stand out.

ERNIE JOHNSON: That's always been a badge of honor for Craig (laughter). You say, you can't possibly wear that. It's like - hey, thanks. You couldn't have said anything nicer to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRAIG SAGER: Welcome back to Orlando. The Magic down by 2...

HAJEK: Sager had charisma, an unmatched rapport with players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN GARNETT: What was your motivation for wearing this today?

SAGER: To wake up (laughter).

GARNETT: What kind of answer is that?

HAJEK: So when guys like Kevin Garnett stopped live interviews to insult his brightly colored suits? Well, that just made for great TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARNETT: Tonight, I am stressing to you. You take this outfit home, and you burn it.

SAGER: There's not any part I can keep?

GARNETT: No. Burn it.

HAJEK: Sager was more than a reporter. He was like the sixth man on a basketball team. LA Clippers point guard Chris Paul always made time for him, even after a tough loss.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS PAUL: When you see Craig, you pep up because you know that he has the same respect for you that you have for him. I love you Craig - love you.

HAJEK: Make no mistake. Sager knew the game. This was his passion.

DORIS BURKE: Here's the saying in basketball, right.

HAJEK: Sideline reporter Doris Burke from ESPN.

BURKE: Game recognize game. There's a reason Craig Sager is beloved, and it's the beauty and the magic of what Craig Sager does.

HAJEK: The magic started in April of 1974 when Sager, a 22-year-old from Batavia, Ill., rushed to an Atlanta Braves baseball game. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron was one hit away from breaking Babe Ruth's seemingly untouchable homerun record, and Sager wanted to cover it for his AM radio station. This was long before the wild suits. He didn't even have a press credential but somehow wound up in the third base photographer's pit on that historic night. Vin Scully called the game.

VIN SCULLY: Fastball - it's a high drive in the deep left-center field. Buckner goes back to the fence. It is good.

HAJEK: This was one of the biggest moments in baseball history. So when Hank Aaron rounded third, Craig Sager did the unthinkable. He got his tape recorder, jumped onto the field and chased after him. Sager's the guy with the mop top hair and white trench coat engulfed by TV crews. Here's his interview with Hank Aaron's mom on the field.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAGER: How you feel, Mrs. Aaron?

ESTELLA AARON: I don't know.

SAGER: How you feel, Mr. Aaron?

HERBERT AARON: I'm fine.

E AARON: (Screaming).

HAJEK: It's a dogged determination that never left Sager, even after he switched to basketball and spent decades on NBA sidelines. Colleagues like TNT's Ernie Johnson say that Sager rarely missed a game - until he was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago.

JOHNSON: We took a collective punch in the gut because Craig is this nonstop guy who's never slowed down in his life.

HAJEK: And yet, even after days of chemo, he still donned his colorful suits and grabbed his microphone.

In July, Craig Sager received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPYS, given to sports figures who have overcome major difficulties in life. He addressed a standing crowd of NBA players and coaches, his teammates. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2016 ESPYS BROADCAST)

SAGER: I will continue to keep fighting, sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It's the only way I know how.

(APPLAUSE)

HAJEK: Danny Hajek, NPR News.

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