Every three minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with leukemia or some other form of blood cancer, or more than 170,000 people annually. In April, 2014, Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Craig Sager got the devastating news that he was one of that number and suffering from acute myeloid leukemia (AML). He devoted the same tireless energy that he brought to sports broadcasting to his fight against this insidious disease, but ultimately lost the battle in December 2016.
I didn’t know Craig personally, but I loved to watch him work the sidelines for “The NBA on TNT.” No one has ever done it better. Among his well-deserved honors for that work were an Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Sports Reporter, and the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award. And while he will be remembered as much for his colorful wardrobe as for his warmth, insights and love of the game, there was much more to the man than that.
Craig wasn’t content to sit on the sidelines while he underwent treatment and so the SagerStrong Foundation was born. He wanted to spare leukemia patients and their families from going through the battle and the pain that he and his family were enduring. The idea for the Foundation was Craig’s but he was continuing to work as much as he could while undergoing treatment, so it was his wife Stacy who did the heavy lifting to make that dream a reality, while also being Craig’s fulltime caregiver.
Unless they’ve actually gone through it, most people don’t realize is the toll that a disease like this takes not only on the patient but on the emotional and physical health of their loved ones and caregivers. Craig didn’t want a stranger taking care of him. So Stacy stayed at his side 24 hours a day throughout this ordeal, giving up her own career so she could devote her total energy to her husband and children, and putting her own health in jeopardy in the process.
Now a year after Craig’s passing, she’s trying to continue to carry out his last wishes through their foundation. Proceeds from the SagerStrong Foundation’s many efforts, such as the shootout during this year’s NBA All-Star game, which raised $500,000 go directly into funding clinical trials and cancer research for leukemia and other blood cancers, such as Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju’s AML research at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where Craig received treatment.
The Foundation also works closely with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the world’s largest voluntary group dedicated to finding cures and treatment for what is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Approximately every 9 minutes, someone passes away from a blood cancer, so what the SagerStrong Foundation is doing is important work.
Craig Sager left an important legacy both on and off the court.
“He was as identifiable with the NBA as any player or coach. The league will not be the same without him,” was what the great Larry Bird said upon hearing of Craig’s passing. His sentiments were echoed by Magic Johnson who tweeted, “The NBA family lost a legend, who changed the way sideline reporters did their job. RIP Craig Sager.”
A few months before his death, Craig was honored with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the 2016 ESPYs for how bravely he had waged his battle. In a moving acceptance speech he said, “Time is something that cannot be bought; it cannot be wagered with God, and it is not in endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life.”