Craig Sager Night
By Tom Dowd
For the last 26 years of a 40-year broadcasting career, Craig Sager has carved out a distinctive place in the NBA landscape, inseparable from the experience of following the NBA. As the sideline reporter for TNT’s broadcasts, Sager has become an NBA icon with his colorful suits and wry interviews with coaches and players.
He’s beloved and respected equally by fans, coaches, players and peers.
“I think people initially gravitated towards him because of his clothes, but then when you dig deeper you realize that he’s a dogged reporter and created a connection with the players that was unmatched in the profession,” said Nets broadcaster Ian Eagle. “A trust with the coaches and an ability to get to the heart of issues in a manner that most journalists only can dream of. He has an innate sense of what’s news and what’s not. How to present it and how to do it in an entertaining and informative way.”
Sager has been absent from the NBA sidelines this season, and for much of the two seasons before this. In 2014, Sager was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. To date he’s undergone nearly 100 procedures as he battles the disease, including three bone marrow transplants, the most recent in August.
The Nets honor Sager’s contributions to the NBA and his battle against cancer with tonight’s Craig Sager Night at Barclays Center. Fans can visit the Swag Shop to purchase the SAGERSTRONG T-Shirt, a tribute to Sager’s many colorful outfits. Proceeds benefit the SAGERSTRONG Foundation’s mission to support cancer research and education.
“For all of us who are in the TV business, broadcasting business, sports industry, especially for those of us who are sideline reporters, we have always looked up to him and how he does his job and the respect that he has earned from so many players and coaches, to see the way in which he’s fought, how much he’s taught all of us, it’s truly incredible,” said Nets sideline reporter Sarah Kustok.
In 1974, Sager was on the field with Henry Aaron right after the Hall of Famer broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record, and over the last four decades he’s covered the Olympics, MLB Postseason, NFL, PGA and more.
“I think he was probably ahead of his time in many ways,” said Eagle. “When the sideline reporter role started it was a lot of very superficial questions and Craig always cut through that and got to the heart of matters in a very direct way, but not in a confrontational way. So he asked tough questions, but because of the dynamic that he formed with players and coaches you never sensed any real drama.”
The colorful outfits offered a glimpse into Sager’s personality. Eagle describes him as a “free spirit.” The way that translates on camera may be the biggest part of Sager’s impact.
“He’s him,” said Kustok. “He’s 100 percent purely genuine. That’s the biggest thing all of us strive to be. In many cases coming up and learning and trying to continue to improve, it’s how do you be your most authentic self on the air. That’s what’s always drawn me to his work so much. He is prepared, he’s knowledgeable, he’s always just so competent in what he’s doing, but he’s 100 percent himself.”