Longtime NBA broadcaster Craig Sager dies at 65 after battle with cancer – Yahoo Sports
Sager was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014, and went through multiple courses of treatment, including chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, to try to beat back the illness. After missing nearly a year, he was cleared to return to television in March 2015, only to see the illness return, forcing him to once again step away from his duties.
After several more months of treatment, including a transplant of bone marrow donated by Craig II, Sager came back for the NBA’s 2015-16 Media Day in September, returned to work on Opening Night a month later, and had his first televised post-treatment tete-a-tete with his longtime foil and close friend, Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, less than two months later. Sager continued to make monthly trips to Houston for treatment throughout the season, and was healthy enough to resume his responsibilities at the NBA’s annual All-Star Weekend in Toronto. His status took a turn shortly thereafter, though, and he later revealed in a March interview with HBO that his leukemia was no longer in remission.
Undaunted, he continued to work, juggling treatment through clinical trials, travel and broadcasting responsibilities. Thanks to some quick thinking and across-the-aisle partnership, the veteran reporter got to work the NBA Finals this past summer for the first time in his storied career, joining ESPN’s broadcast crew for Game 6 of the 2016 Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers … and loving every minute of it.
In recognition of his tireless fight, Sager was recognized this past summer with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the 2016 ESPY Awards, where he delivered a stirring acceptance speech in which he reaffirmed his commitment to savoring every moment of his life for as long as he had left:
“When you are diagnosed with a terminal disease like cancer, leukemia, your perception of time changes,” Sager said. “When doctors tell you you have three weeks to live, do you try to live a lifetime of moments in three weeks? Or do you say, ‘To hell with three weeks?’ When doctors tell you your only hope of survival is 14 straight days of intense chemotherapy, 24 hours a day, do you sit there and count down the 336 hours? Or do you see each day as a blessing? Time is something that cannot be bought. It cannot be wagered with God. And it is not an endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life.
“I’m not an expert on time, or on cancer, or on life itself. I’m a kid from the small Illinois town of Batavia, who grew up on the Chicago Cubs, and made sports his life’s work, although there’s never been a day where it actually seemed like work. I have run with the bulls in Pamplona. I have raced with Mario Andretti in Indianapolis. I have climbed the Great Wall of China. I have jumped out of airplanes over Kansas. I have wrestled gators in Florida. I have sailed the ocean with Ted Turner. I have swam the oceans in the Caribbean. And I have interviewed Gregg Popovich. Mid-game. Spurs down seven.
“If I’ve learned anything through all of this, it’s that each and every day is a canvas, waiting to be painted — an opportunity for love, for fun, for living, for learning. To those of you out there who are suffering from cancer, facing adversity, I want you to know that your will to live and to fight cancer can make all the difference in the world. The way you think influences the way you feel, and the way you feel determines how you act.”
Sager credited his family and his colleagues at Turner Sports for their strength and aid in his fight, and praised his parents, Coral and Al, for raising him “with a positive outlook on life.”
Thanks to them, “I always see the glass half full,” Sager said. “I see the beauty in others, and I see the hope for tomorrow. If we don’t have hope and faith, we have nothing.
“Whatever I might have imagined a terminal diagnosis would do to my spirit, it’s summoned quite the opposite: the greatest appreciation for life itself. So I will never give up, and I will never give in. 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.”
Sager’s fight continued the following month, as he underwent a third stem-cell transplant aimed at beating back the advancing leukemia.
“I’ve already had two stem cell transplants,” the 65-year-old Sager said during a March interview with HBO’s “Real Sports.” Very rarely does somebody have a third. So I have to maintain my strength, so I can go through this.”
In order to reach the point where he could undergo a third bone marrow transplant, Sager needed to embark on a new round of chemotherapy, which prevented him from traveling to Rio de Janeiro to cover men’s and women’s basketball during the 2016 Summer Olympics. That course of action frustrated Sager, who had hoped to hold off on the new round of treatment until after the Olympic fortnight, but the doctors who helped him keep the disease at bay for the past two-plus years determined that time was of the essence.
Despite the long odds of success with the new round of treatment, Sager remained committed to pushing his luck — “OK, third time’s the charm,” he said shortly after the transplant began — and to taking the fight to his adversary, according to Kristie Rieken of The Associated Press:
“I like to gamble,” he told The Associated Press. “I like to bet on horses, I like to bet on dogs, I like to bet on a lot of things. I’ve bet on a lot of things with a lot higher odds than this.” […]
The latest of nearly 100 procedures Sager has endured in his well-publicized fight was performed at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and took more than 10 hours to complete. Dr. Muzaffar Qazilbash, Sager’s stem cell transplantation physician, researched thousands of such transplants at MD Anderson over the last 15 years.
“It’s less than 1 percent of the total number of transplants,” Qazilbash said. “It’s very rare to have three transplants.”
That perseverance and commitment to positivity struck so many throughout Sager’s fight, and helped turn his individual fight into something that had a much greater impact on a much broader community. He inspired us, presenting an indefatigable example of grace under pressure and reminding us that while you can’t always control what happens to you in life, you can control how you respond — even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
“Man, life is too beautiful, too wonderful, there’s just too many things,” he said. “It’s not just you. It’s your family and kids and all. Fight. Fight until the end. Fight as hard as you can.”
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