On October 7th, 2015, Craig Sager was released from the hospital "for good." The beloved sideline reporter had been battling leukemia for the second time, and he won. It was 18 days earlier than expected, and on Day 82, Sager was coming home.
Three weeks later, Sager was back on the sideline for the NBA on TNT during the Pelicans-Warriors game on opening night. Fans, writers, players, and coaches rejoiced. Sager was back doing what he loved - wearing ridiculous suits and eye-popping pocket squares while asking NBA coaches and players what Gregg Popovich probably considers "inane questions." After two ferocious battles with the cancer, his hair shorter and his face wrinklier, Craig Sager had finally returned.
But not for good.
Not for good, because in an interview with HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that aired Tuesday night, Sager revealed that his cancer is no longer in remission. It's back. It's hitting harder than ever, and his doctors say he has three to six months left to live.
Yet, Craig Sager vows to continue the fight. You know what they say, third time's the charm, right?
In the interview, Craig's voice is battered, scratchy, perhaps on the verge of tears, even. It isn't the same booming, professional, and clear speech he's produced on the sidelines. He doesn't sound the same. He doesn't look the same either. His hair looks ready to fall away. His face looks tired. But Craig Sager doesn't care, he's ready for whatever happens next - what he calls "unchartered waters." Craig Sager isn't going down without a fight.
Just look at his suit.
During the interview, Sager isn't draped in a hospital night gown or sweatpants or a simple t-shirt, he's dressed like he always is. A spacey whirl of black, teal, blue, and purple, Sager's jacket shines under the TV lights. Shaquille O'Neal might offer to buy him a new one, but Sager doesn't care. He'll dress the way he always does, right down to the buzzer. The very last second of the fight. The very last punch. The very last breath.
Sager was initially diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia around April 2014. When he was diagnosed, he issued a statement informing the baseketball world that he would miss the 2014 NBA Playoffs. He called the diagnosis a "dramatic turn," like any sports reporter would. It was just another step in the Craig Sager story, like visiting a new city or a shiny new arena.
The sideline just wasn't the same during those playoffs. There was no rainbow suit popping up. No bright red pocket square. It didn't feel right. Even when Sager's son, Craig Sager Jr, took over for a few games, it wasn't the same. On a warm April night in Texas, Craig Jr. interviewed Gregg Popovich during the San Antonio Spurs' first playoff game, and Pop had some words for his dad back home.
“Craig..we miss ya, you’ve been an important part of all this for a long time doing a great job and we miss ya. We want your fanny back on the court and I promise I'll be nice. Get back here. Good luck.”
Pop said it all. Everything felt by the whole basketball world wrapped into one snippet of speech by perhaps the game's greatest coach. He was right, too. Sager's been a sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT for 17 years. He started back when the program's logo was a shock of red and yellow, just like his suits and ties and pocket squares. Sager hasn't just been a reporter for the NBA, he's been an integral cog, a beloved member of the basketball family.
That's what makes this news so hard, really. Sager's not just a reporter, he's the NBA's fun uncle. The league has always been like a giant happy basketball family. Players and coaches criss-cross the nation with their friendships, and fans connect to the game and its stars in an incredible way. Everyone's a part of it. Everyone's a member of the family. All-Star Weekend is more like some crazy, big family reunion. Craig Sager was at the reunion in Toronto this year. He was wearing a Valentine's Day-esque suit, and he was talking it up with the best players in the world.
If Sager's time is truly coming to an end, it may be the hardest thing this family has ever been through. Life is bigger than basketball, sure, but basketball is such a huge part of our lives. It unites us as fans, players, coaches, reporters, and everything in between. If we lose Craig Graham Sager, things may never be the same. Sitting on the couch on Thursday nights will never be the same. The NBA on TNT's epic, nostalgic orchestra of a theme will never be the same. Sideline interviews will never be the same. Suits and ties and pocket squares will never be the same.
But sometimes, life isn't fair - just like basketball. Sometimes the ball just won't roll in. Sometimes the clock ticks down and the dream of a buzzer beater never comes to life, and you have to go on without it. We might be without Craig Sager for the next few months. We might be without him for longer, maybe forever. But there's still time on the clock, and Sager will keep fighting until the very end. Until the buzzer. And his basketball family will be there, fighting with him.
We love you, Craig. You have no idea how much. Keep fighting, and stay strong. Your family believes in you.