Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame: Craig Sager, The Inspirational Standard-Bearer of Sideline Reporters
SVG is profiling this year’s 10 Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame inductees in the weeks leading up to the ceremony on Dec. 13 at the New York Hilton. For more information, visit sportsbroadcastinghalloffame.org.
For more than two decades, Craig Sager’s loud suits and genial demeanor have become staples of the NBA on TNT. As Turner Sports’ NBA sideline reporter for 26 years, he has endeared himself to players, coaches, and fans alike with his easy rapport and insatiable energy — all while keeping viewers informed about the happenings on and off the court.
“I think Craig Sager has been the most influential sideline reporter in history,” says NBA Hall of Famer and Inside the NBA analyst Charles Barkley. “Every player knows him, every player loves talking to him, and every player loves making fun of him. You know that means they respect him and like him. I love you, Craig Sager.”
Breaking Into Broadcasting
A native of Batavia, IL, Sager graduated from Northwestern University, where he was a walk-on with the football and basketball teams and served a three-year term as the university’s Willie the Wildcat mascot.
He got started in broadcasting in Florida, first with WXLT-TV Sarasota in 1972 and then at Sarasota’s WSPB-Radio (where he interviewed Hank Aaron on the field moments after he slugged home run No. 715) and WTSP-TV St. Petersburg. He went on to become sports director for WINK-TV Ft. Myers, where he was honored with the Sportscaster of the Year Award from the Florida High School Coaches Association. He then spent two years as sports director and reporter at KMBC-TV Kansas City, MO, calling play-by-play for the Kansas City Kings, Royals spring training, and Chiefs preseason games.
Joining the Turner Family
After handling CNN’s first-ever live remote report from the 1980 MLB Postseason, Sager joined the Turner Broadcasting family the following year, co-anchoring CNN’s Sports Tonight (for which he won a CableAce award in 1985) and College Football Scoreboard.
“Craig is a pioneer within Turner and an icon in the sports media industry,” says Turner President David Levy. “As much as he is known for his unique wardrobe, he is well respected for his exceptional work as a reporter. Yes, his wardrobe is special, but so too is his undeniable talent to always ask the right questions and to treat others fairly, regardless of the circumstance.”
Beyond the NBA on TNT
In addition to his iconic role on the sidelines for the NBA on TNT (for which he received his first Sports Emmy nomination, in 2012), Sager has worked a multitude of other Turner Sports Properties, including a gig as sideline reporter for Turner and CBS’s joint coverage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament since 2011. He also has covered the USA Men’s National Basketball Team in tournaments around the world, including the 2002 FIBA World Championship.
“Craig Sager has been one of the best reporters in the world,” says Inside the NBA analyst Kenny Smith. “His ability to ask the tough questions in the correct way has given him respect by the players that no other reporter has ever gotten.”
Away from the hard court, Sager reported for TBS’s MLB Postseason coverage from 2007 through ’13. On the gridiron, he served as sideline reporter for the NFL on TNT from 1990 to ’97, and TBS’s college-football coverage from 2002 to ’06. In addition, he was course reporter at the 2009 PGA Championship and reported from Turner Sports’ coverage of 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2000, and 2001 Goodwill Games, as well as for TNT’s coverage of the 1992 Winter Olympics. In addition to his Turner Sports assignments, Sager has worked the Olympic basketball sidelines for NBC at every Summer Games since Sydney in 2000.
“Craig is an inspiration to me and so many others in our business,” says Levy. “The positive outlook he has demonstrated every day since I’ve known him is contagious. His affinity for sports is surpassed only by his love for his family and passion for life itself.”
A Heroic Struggle Inspires the World
Although Sager has been a beloved figure among sports fans for years, his heroic battle with acute myeloid leukemia over the past three has brought him into the hearts of America like never before. No matter the setback in his fight — including three bone-marrow transplants since he was diagnosed in 2014 — Sager continues to demonstrate astonishing grace and courage. Throughout much of his battle, he continued to work NBA sidelines for TNT and for his first-ever NBA Finals for ESPN in 2016.
Earlier this year, the father of five and husband to Stacy received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2016 ESPY Awards.
“Sports are who I am in my soul. They have guided my life, and I have had the good fortune to witness all of your amazing feats,” Sager said in accepting the award. “And I am confident that I will continue to watch those amazing feats.”
Even under extreme adversity as he continues to undergo intense treatment, he continues to fight to live life to the fullest.
“I will never give up, and I will never give in,” he said at the ESPYs. “I will continue to keep fighting, sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know.”