You are not supposed to root as a broadcaster, but Craig Sager admits he was rooting big for the Cavaliers to beat the Warriors in Game 5.
During the NBA’s Western Conference Finals, which were aired by Turner Sports, Sager learned that ESPN executives were interested in having him be on the sidelines for one of the games of the NBA Finals, an event the longtime sideline reporter had never worked. In a nice bit of corporate thinking between two NBA television partners, Turner Sports vice president of talent services Tara August called Sager after Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals to ask if he’d be interested in working with the ESPN group.
Said Sager: “Would I be interested? My God, of course! But I didn’t want to step on anyone toes, and ESPN has a cast of hundreds. I didn’t want to take away from what Doris [Burke] or anyone else on the crew did. But yeah, I wanted to be a part of it.”
There was one catch, of course. Sager was scheduled to undergo eight days of chemotherapy at Houston’s MD Anderson after the end of Western Conference Finals. “That would be the only time I could do a game, and so it had to be Game 6,” Sager said. “For a while, I thought we would not have a Game 6. It’s been exciting to watch the games and now to be part of the Finals.”
Sager will share sideline reporting duties with Burke on Thursday night (ABC, 9 p.m.) as part of ESPN’s team that includes play-by-play commentator Mike Breen and analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. It’s not totally uncommon for sports networks to share talent. For instance, Sager has covered the Olympics for NBC and golf for CBS. “We hope that this will be a special night for Craig and for NBA fans,” said John Wildhack, ESPN executive vice president, production and programming. “We are grateful for his interest and for the continued collaboration with our friends at Turner.”
There is some additional corporate synergy here as well: ESPN will present Sager with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the 2016 ESPY Awards on July 13.
Sager said he will learn today at an ABC production meeting which team he will be covering. “I told them whatever they want me to do is great,” Sager said. “If we each get a team, let Doris decide which one she wants. I’m just happy to be a part of this. Hopefully I can just blend in and not be a distraction.”
Given Sager thought he was finished with NBA reporting for the year, the sartorially famous reporter had to shop for a new suit. He headed for Neiman Marcus and says he found “an unbelievable coat with a lot of blue and green in it, and a lot of texture that jumps out at you. It’s lively and I’m very happy with it.”
Sager has acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive type of cancer. In March he sent out a statement: “The typical prognosis is 3–6 months to live, but I would like to stress that is for a patient who is not receiving treatment. Fortunately, I am receiving the best treatment in the world and I remain fully confident I will win this battle.”
Sager said he undergoes eight days of treatment at MD Anderson every three weeks where he receives Vidaza injections for seven days and on the eighth day, he gets an experimental treatment. The medication is used to treat a group of blood/bone marrow disorders in which the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells. It is believed to work by helping bone marrow grow normal blood cells so patients will need fewer blood transfusions. On Tuesday Sager went to his local hospital in Atlanta to set up the blood, platelets and the blood transfusion he will need on Friday after working the game for ESPN. He said he will spend Father’s Day in Florida with his family and would watch a potential Game 7 from there.
“People say I need rest, but I say, “No, I don’t,” said Sager. “This gets me going. How can you not get excited about going to the NBA Finals!”