MILWAUKEE—His suits preceded his smile, which preceded his work ethic. And unfortunately it all preceded a battle that TNT announcer Craig Sager couldn’t beat, as the Illinois native passed away Thursday following a battle with leukemia.
Known for colorful suits and probing questions, Sager was as embedded in the NBA fabric as any member of the media and beloved by seemingly everyone he came across in his three decades covering the NBA for Turner Sports.
The loss, while not unexpected given how long Sager has been battling the disease, still rocked NBA players, coaches and anyone associated with the league to their core.
“Like so many guys in our league, when you see Craig coming, you just put a smile on your face,” Dwyane Wade said. “When you see him in the building, you know it’s a big game. As a player you do everything you can to make sure that you get the interview with him at halftime or after the game.”
Whether it was his battles with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich or his hilarious All-Star exchange with Kevin Garnett, he always took the ribbing in stride and took even more pride in how he presented himself.
“You had a joke for him, you had a moment,” Wade said. “If as an individual, you can go through life and impact that many people, just being who you are, having fun in life and loving, then you’ve done an amazing job. He’s a legend, and his legacy he left behind and stories we’ll tell for years to come.”
Sager’s battle, going through three bone-marrow procedures, became the story of legend to go along with his never-ending work ethic, often shuffling from treatments in Houston to wherever he was scheduled to work, became a point of inspiration for the players he encountered and the fans who loved him.
“That’s an incredible human being,” Jimmy Butler said. “As many lives as he inspired, the smile he constantly had, to giving back in the tough times, we need more people like that. He definitely made the world a better place and gave a tremendous amount of people hope. He will be missed.”
Sager even got the notoriously-focused Popovich and Tom Thibodeau to loosen up during interviews, often becoming the subject of tributes from the players while trying his best to do his job.
“Very sad. He was a great man,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I did have the opportunity as a coach when he was covering the NCAA Tournament down in San Antonio. I got to know him a little bit. He was just so great for the game, just a guy that always asked the right questions.”
And with no more questions to ask and no more bright suits to wear, the world seems a little duller with Sager leaving it behind.