December 16, 2016

HOUSTON (AP) Craig Sager never once thought about giving up as he battled cancer for more than two years.

''Man, life is too beautiful, too wonderful, there's just too many things,'' he said in late August from a hospital bed in Houston. ''It's not just you. It's your family and kids and all. Fight. Fight until the end. Fight as hard as you can.''

The end for the beloved TNT broadcaster came Thursday when the man known as much for his outrageous wardrobe as his relationships with the NBA's elite succumbed to an aggressive form of leukemia. Turner Sports announced his death without disclosing details. He was 65 and had worked basketball games for TNT for nearly a quarter-century.

''There will never be another Craig Sager,'' Turner President David Levy said. ''His incredible talent, tireless work ethic and commitment to his craft took him all over the world covering sports.''

His son, Craig Jr., posted a loving video tribute to his father, tweeting: ''We packed a lifetime and then some into these 28 years together.''

Sager's passing brought out condolences from every corner of the NBA and Hall of Famer Larry Bird expressed what many were feeling.

''He was as identifiable with the NBA as any player or coach,'' Bird said. ''The league will not be the same without him.''

Magic Johnson echoed those sentiments on Twitter.

''The NBA family lost a legend who changed the way sideline reporters did their job. RIP Craig Sager,'' Johnson said.

It wasn't just the NBA community that mourned his passing , with Vice President Joe Biden and Drake expressing sadness at the loss.

Sager had two bone marrow transplants with his son as the donor before undergoing a third one from an anonymous donor four months ago.

He announced in April 2014 that he had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and he missed the playoffs and much of the following season as he underwent the first two transplants. Sager revealed in March 2016 that his leukemia was no longer in remission. He said doctors told him the typical prognosis was three to six months to live.

He was overwhelmed by how news of his fight spread and people across the world started talking about the Sager Strong campaign.

His battle brought out the soft side of Gregg Popovich, the prickly San Antonio Spurs coach with whom he had many memorable exchanges during in-game interviews.

Sager never faulted Popovich for his gruff attitude during those interviews. After learning Sager had died, Popovich spoke somberly for nearly two minutes before a game in Phoenix.

''If any of us can display half the courage he has to stay on this planet, to live every life as if it's his last, we'd be well off,'' Popovich said.

Sager sported suits in every color of the rainbow and plenty of shades not found in nature, from teal to fuchsia to magenta. He would match plaid blazers with paisley ties or striped shirts - all in bold hues.

Sometimes lost in the glare of his wardrobe was Sager's relentless nature as a reporter. Every time Popovich would give a terse non-answer, an unfazed Sager would pepper him with another question.

Sager's persistence was on display at the start of his career at age 22.

Working for a Braves-affiliated AM radio station in Sarasota, Florida, he hopped a flight to Atlanta for a game with Hank Aaron a home run away from breaking Babe Ruth's career record. After Aaron hit the homer, Sager sprinted onto the field and wound up chasing Aaron down the third-base line. When Aaron's teammates mobbed him at home plate, Sager can be seen in his trench coat in the middle of the scrum.

Sager worked as a reporter on the Olympics, Major League Baseball playoffs, the NFL and the NCAA Tournament, among other sports. But he was indelibly connected to the NBA.

''Craig was as vital to the NBA as the players and coaches,'' Silver said. ''Craig earned widespread respect for his insightful reporting and inspired so many most recently with his courage.''

Sager got to cover his first NBA Finals in 2016 through an unusual arrangement between TNT and ESPN, which invited him to join its coverage. He marked the occasion by wearing a blazer with a royal blue floral print. In an interview with LeBron James after Game 6, the Cavaliers star turned the tables to giddily ask Sager a question: ''How in the hell do you go 30-plus years without getting a Finals game?''

A native of Batavia, Illinois, Sager attended Northwestern, where he walked onto the football and basketball teams, and served as the school's ''Willie the Wildcat'' mascot for three years.

He worked at several TV and radio stations in Florida after college before spending two years in Kansas City. Sager joined CNN in 1981 after handling the network's first live remote report during the 1980 baseball playoffs.

Sager was in Dallas for a game in April 2014 when he felt ill and sought treatment from Mavericks team physician Dr. Tarek Souryal, who had previously performed Sager's knee surgery. With a dangerously low hemoglobin count, Sager had six blood transfusions over a 24-hour period before returning to Atlanta. After that came the treatments and his public battle with leukemia.


AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds and AP freelance writer Jose M. Romero contributed to this report.

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