Craig Sager Returns To TNT After 11-Month Bout With Leukemia

Craig Sager Returns To TNT After 11-Month Bout With Leukemia

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  • Craig Sager returned to the sidelines to work the TNT broadcast of the Oklahoma City Thunder-Chicago Bulls game on March 5.

Popular TNT courtside reporter Craig Sager returned on March 5 during the Oklahoma City Thunder-Chicago Bulls game. Sager planned to wear red and black as a tribute to the Bulls and the city of Chicago.

Craig Sager is back with a vengeance.

Sager, who battled leukemia for 11 months, decided to take the court again as TNT’s most popular sideline reporter for the Oklahoma City Thunder-Chicago Bulls game at the United Center on March 5, per Pro Basketball Talk’s Sean Highkin. Sager previously missed the entire 2013-14 postseason and the 2014-15 regular season.

Sager spoke with Highkin during morning shootaround on Thursday. Highkin says Sager “looked a little thin, but otherwise in great spirits.” The TNT courtside reporter said he will wear red and black as a tribute to the Bulls and their city:

“I will come tonight, and you /4/actually think I’m Benny the Bull. I have a lot of love for my Chicago Bulls. Normally, you don’t show a lot of favoritism for one or the other team, but since Chicago means so much to me and coming back here, I said I have to show some love to the Bulls and to Chicago. I don’t think I’ll get booed by too many people for what I’m wearing here tonight. 

“I’m very grateful. I got up today and it was like the first day of school. You’re a little nervous. I’ve done it before but everything’s a little different. It’s a long 11 months, believe me. But I was very fortunate I had some doctors I believed in, had some good care. 

“I’m back. A little bit lighter. I don’t know if you can see it on TV but I lost close to 50 pounds, got some of it back, but I had to get some new clothes because all those great things I had before don’t fit anymore.

“I never had a bad day mentally. I really didn’t. I was very optimistic, positive, believed in my doctors. Sure, some days physically were worse than others, but I always felt that if I did what they said to do, I’d be all right. It took longer than I thought, because I had a very tough infection and then I came down with pneumonia, and when you compound pneumonia with leukemia, people start talking mortality rates and all.

“I didn’t pay attention to it. Maybe I was naive, but I really didn’t think about the negative things. I just said,’I want to get back.’

“I really thought I’d get back for baseball postseason, but that was far-fetched. I thought for sure I’d be back by [NBA season-opening] ring ceremony, and then I thought I’d be back by Christmas, or for All-Star. But it wasn’t until Sunday that I took my final medication to keep my body from rejecting the transplant.

“Then I had to get the OK from the doctors from head to chest to feet, and they all cleared me with no restrictions. It all happened very quickly here at the end, but they said,’You’re ready to go, and be careful.’ They still want me to wear a mask on the plane so I don’t make the other people sick, but I guess I’m all right.”

Bleacher Report’s Lars Anderson wrote on Thursday Sager was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in the spring of 2014. On April 10 that year, Sager was assigned to work the San Antonio Spurs-Dallas Mavericks game at the American Airlines Center. After a late-morning production meeting, Sager, who stood 6’4″ and weighed 222 pounds, went for a run in the downtown Dallas area. He had kept a regular running regimen and always paid attention to what he ate. 

However, Sager felt completely wiped out during his run that day. He collapsed on his bed at Dallas’ Rosewood Crescent Hotel. After he finished his postgame interviews that evening, he “felt different” and told Mavericks team physician T.O. Souryal, who operated on Sager’s knee in 2002, he felt weak, per Anderson.

A blood exam revealed Sager’s hemoglobin level plummeted to 4.6. According to the Bleacher Report update,  the normal cout for adult males is 13.5 to 17.5. Doctors promptly gave him six blood transfusions over the next 24 hours. 

Stacy eventually flew to Dallas. She and her husband then boarded a connecting flight to Atlanta, where they live. Doctors at Piedmont Hospital confirmed Craig Sager has leukemia. Despite the finding, Sager remained upbeat, telling Anderson he’s “had a charmed life” and was thankful for his wife, Stacy, and their children.

One of his older children, Craig,Jr., broke the news of his father’s situation on Twitter. Craig Sager, Jr. is the managing editor of Score Atlanta, a site that covers local high school sports. He took over his dad’s position during Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, interviewing Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. The move surprised and touched the older Sager, per Bleacher Report. 

Doctors soon determined Craig, Jr. was the perfect match for his father. Anderson says they performed a bone marrow transplant on July 3, 2014. Craig, Sr. remained in the hospital for six weeks before being given the go signal to go home. 

According to the Bleacher Report update, Sager then underwent treatment for six to eight hours daily for 93 consecutive days. He had to travel every single day from his house to the hospital. 

Sager received his big break from CNN owner Ted Turner back in 1981. Sager, a Batavia, Il. native and Northwestern graduate, was currently working at a Kansas City television station. He took a risk with the lower-paying job and has been with the network ever since. 

Seven years later, Sager decided to make himself unique by wearing his trademark bright-colored suits. Sager tells Anderson he does so because of the job’s fun nature:

“Sports are supposed to be fun, and so I have fun with the way I dress. I used to get reprimanded, but then at the 2002 All-Star Game, commissioner [David] Stern was making fun of me and then his wife says, ‘David, stop that. I like those suits.’ And once I won the commissioner’s wife over, it all changed. It was a huge breakout moment.”

For his part, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau told ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell before the game on Thursday it’s great to have Sager back:

“It’s one of the great stories in the league. He’s a big part of this NBA family. We’re all thrilled to have him back. He’s been a great inspiration to a lot of people. His courage, his determination, the way he’s fought. So we’re just thrilled to have him back.”

Welcome back, Craig Sager.

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