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Craig Sager known for his colorful and distinctive suits during his more than 40-year career passed away at the age of 65 after battling acute myeloid leukemia since he was first diagnosed in 2014 - (pvsbond photo)


After interviewing MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan I had dinner with Craig Sager in the media dining room at the then California Angels Anaheim Stadium - (photo Chuck Andersenderivative work: Delaywaves talk)


The NBA's San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich took great pleasure in breaking Craig Sager balls with curt replies to his questions and insulting Sager choice of clothing. The reality is it was all in good fun and Sager handled it gracefully - (NBA photo)



James Loving/National Radio Text Service



Sports journalist Craig Sager passed away this week from cancer at the age of 65. The experience I had with Sager will be everlasting and with great sorrow I realize that sports journalism has lost one of the nicest and most talented people that the business has ever known


Saturday, December 17, 2016


Sorrow swept over me after hearing the sports journalist Craig Sager passed away this week from cancer at the age of 65. Sager was much loved in the sports and media community including myself.

I met Sager as I was eating a meal in the then California Angels media dining room. As I was sitting alone he approached me and asked if he could join me.

It took me back for a moment for at the time I was a rookie in the sports media business. It was the first time that someone had asked to sit with me.

Many in media have an attitude that they were better than others OR afraid that you would be a threat and take their job. Being new in the sports journalism business I was pretty much avoided. I was not in the category to take their job since I was learning the trade on the job and was a work in progress.

I can be very specific about the date that this meeting occurred since there is a back story. It was the day that I interviewed Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan about his record of pitching five no-hitters (to be explained later).

The meeting stands out because the after the day I interviewed Ryan and met Sager on June 10th 1990. The following day Ryan pitched his sixth no-hitter against the Oakland A's in Oakland, California on June 11, 1990.

Being new in the sports broadcasting business and shy I was reluctant to speak to Sager but he took on the task of communication and making me feel at ease, shook my had and introduced himself.

He was extremely personable, had a big warm smile. The truth is that having been a musician turned entertainment journalist I had no idea who he was.

Sager explained his background that he was with TNT (Turner Network Television) and TBS (Turner Broadcasting System) which I was quite familiar with but both channels were not available in the cable system area where I resided.

My familiarity with the channels was having attended both press conferences when the channels founder Ted Turner announced at cable television conventions his intention to create both channels a YEAR IN ADVANCE of their launch.

Despite my ignorance an unperturbed Sager went on with the conversation and put me at ease. Since I was primarily based in the Los Angeles area and he traveled throughout the country I don't recall having another exchange with him.

It wasn't until his death that I researched his background to find out who he was prior to our encounter and discovered that he had at that time a 16 year career in the business.

Sager began his career as a reporter for WXLT (now WWSB-Channel 40) in Sarasota, Florida. He worked as a radio news director in 1974, making $95 a week for his efforts, a paltry sum for which he was supplemented in part by his access to sports events. Sager was in Atlanta and dodged security to be on the field on April 8, 1974, when slugger Hank Aaron hit his record-breaking 715th home run - brashly seeking to interview the superstar at home plate amidst mass fan pandemonium.

In 1978 Sager joined KMBC-Channel 9 in Kansas City, Missouri, where he broadcast Kansas City Royals spring training games and Kansas City Chiefs preseason games during the 1970s. Sager would remain at the station until 1981. The young reporter was later remembered by Major League Baseball Hall of Fame player George Brett from an encounter at spring training as a "tireless worker" who would set up and focus the camera before conducting his own interview, essentially becoming a "one-man crew."

Sager joined CNN in 1981 after handling the network's first live remote report from the 1980 baseball playoffs. At CNN, Sager was co-anchor of the network's CNN Sports Tonight shows and was honored with a Cable Ace award in 1985.

Sager also served as the anchor of College Football Scoreboard on CNN's sports-oriented sister network, TBS, from 1982 to 1985. In 1987, Sager moved to work full-time at the TBS division, first hosting a 30 minute Sunday night program called "The Coors Sports Page" as well as handling halftime reports of the Atlanta Hawks games shown on the network.

Sager was posted wherever the network needed him, working before the cameras at the 1986, 1990 (when we met), 1994 and 1998 Goodwill Games, the Pan American Games, and the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Sager also called Nordic skiing and curling for sister network TNT's coverage of the 1992 Winter Olympics. He has also worked for telecasts of golf, tennis, football and various amateur sports.

It took over almost 15 years for me to see Sager in action on television and ironically I was in Asia. What stands out the most are the barbs and seemingly uncomfortable interviews he had with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich. POP's, as he's referred to, always had some pungent remarks to Sager, when he was doing his job trying to get half time and post game interviews with the Spurs coach.

Pop and NBA players joked with Sager about his loud colorful attire. It was a Sager trademark to wear colorful outfits and he did it well.

In my experience with Pop he came off the same salty way when I asked him a post game question. Being from the street my initial reaction was to kick his ass (not that I would win) but with NBA security standing by his side it was a no brainer not to, as I would perhaps go to jail and most certainly lose my credentials for NBA games.

To his credit Sager handled Popovich's verbal cutting remarks in an entirely different manner…. he simply smiled and went on with his questioning. His discernment obviously served him well.

Sager just grinned and endured the full thrust of Pop's insults. It was through his interactions with the ungraceful, arrogant San Antonio Spurs coach that Sager inadvertently revealed the dark side of Popovich's humor. Time after time Sager repeatedly was the target of Pop's abusive verbal exchanges but he handled it gracefully with dignity and class.

My experience with Sager will be everlasting. I feel fortunate to have met such a great human being and with great sorrow I realize that sports journalism has lost one of the nicest and most talented people that the business has ever known.


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