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Colorful NBA reporter Sager dies after battle with cancer

Associated Press logo Associated Press 12/16/2016 By KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
FILE- In this May 12, 2015, file photo, broadcaster Craig Sager, left, talks with Los Angeles Clippers' Glen Davis prior to Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets in Houston. Sager, the longtime NBA sideline reporter famous for his flashy suits and probing questions, has died after a battle with cancer, Turner Sports announced Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. He was 65. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) © The Associated Press FILE- In this May 12, 2015, file photo, broadcaster Craig Sager, left, talks with Los Angeles Clippers' Glen Davis prior to Game 5 of the NBA basketball Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets in Houston. Sager, the longtime NBA sideline reporter famous for his flashy suits and probing questions, has died after a battle with cancer, Turner Sports announced Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. He was 65. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

HOUSTON (AP) — Craig Sager never once thought about giving up as he battled cancer for more than two years.

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo wears a shirt to honor NBA broadcaster Craig Sager who died earlier before an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) © The Associated Press Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo wears a shirt to honor NBA broadcaster Craig Sager who died earlier before an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

"Man, life is too beautiful, too wonderful, there's just too many things," he said in late August from a Houston hospital bed. "It's not just you. It's your family and kids and all. Fight. Fight until the end. Fight as hard as you can."

FILE - In this March 5, 2015, file photo, Craig Sager acknowledges the crowd during a timeout in an NBA basketball game between the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder in Chicago. Longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager has died at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Turner President David Levy says in a statement Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, that Sager had died, without saying when or where. (AP Photo/David Banks, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this March 5, 2015, file photo, Craig Sager acknowledges the crowd during a timeout in an NBA basketball game between the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder in Chicago. Longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager has died at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Turner President David Levy says in a statement Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, that Sager had died, without saying when or where. (AP Photo/David Banks, File)

The end for the beloved TNT broadcaster came Thursday when the man known as much for his outrageous wardrobe as his relationships with the NBA's elite succumbed to an aggressive form of leukemia. Turner Sports announced his death without disclosing details. He was 65 and had worked basketball games for TNT for nearly a quarter-century.

FILE - In this July 13, 2016, file photo, Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V award for perseverance at the ESPY Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager has died at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Turner President David Levy says in a statement Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, that Sager had died, without saying when or where. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this July 13, 2016, file photo, Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V award for perseverance at the ESPY Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager has died at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Turner President David Levy says in a statement Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, that Sager had died, without saying when or where. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

"There will never be another Craig Sager," Turner President David Levy said. "His incredible talent, tireless work ethic and commitment to his craft took him all over the world covering sports."

FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2016, file photo, longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager smiles during an interview at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Sager has died at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Turner President David Levy says in a statement Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, that Sager had died, without saying when or where. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2016, file photo, longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager smiles during an interview at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Sager has died at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Turner President David Levy says in a statement Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, that Sager had died, without saying when or where. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

His son, Craig Jr., posted a loving video tribute to his father, tweeting: "We packed a lifetime and then some into these 28 years together."

FILE - In this June 1, 2016, file photo, longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager reacts after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Sager has died at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Turner President David Levy says in a statement Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, that Sager had died, without saying when or where. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this June 1, 2016, file photo, longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager reacts after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Sager has died at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. Turner President David Levy says in a statement Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, that Sager had died, without saying when or where. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)

Sager's passing brought out condolences from every corner of the NBA and Hall of Famer Larry Bird expressed what many were feeling.

FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2016, file photo, NBA Hall of Fame member and TNT colleague Charles Barkley, left, poses with longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager while visiting Sager at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Sager, famous for his flashy suits and probing questions, has died after a battle with cancer, Turner Sports announced Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. He was 65. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2016, file photo, NBA Hall of Fame member and TNT colleague Charles Barkley, left, poses with longtime NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager while visiting Sager at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Sager, famous for his flashy suits and probing questions, has died after a battle with cancer, Turner Sports announced Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. He was 65. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

"He was as identifiable with the NBA as any player or coach," Bird said. "The league will not be the same without him."

FILE - In this July 13, 2016, file photo, Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V award for perseverance at the ESPY Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Sager, the longtime NBA sideline reporter famous for his flashy suits and probing questions, has died after a battle with cancer, Turner Sports announced Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. He was 65. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this July 13, 2016, file photo, Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V award for perseverance at the ESPY Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Sager, the longtime NBA sideline reporter famous for his flashy suits and probing questions, has died after a battle with cancer, Turner Sports announced Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. He was 65. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Magic Johnson echoed those sentiments on Twitter.

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker wear shirts to honor NBA broadcaster Craig Sager who died earlier before an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) © The Associated Press Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker wear shirts to honor NBA broadcaster Craig Sager who died earlier before an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

"The NBA family lost a legend who changed the way sideline reporters did their job. RIP Craig Sager," Johnson said.

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker wear shirts to honor NBA broadcaster Craig Sager who died earlier before an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) © The Associated Press Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker wear shirts to honor NBA broadcaster Craig Sager who died earlier before an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

It wasn't just the NBA community that mourned his passing , with Vice President Joe Biden and Drake expressing sadness at the loss.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, second from right, leads Kevin Durant, right, and other members of the team in applauding the life of Turner Sports NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager, prior to an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Sager died Thursday after battling cancer. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) © The Associated Press Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, second from right, leads Kevin Durant, right, and other members of the team in applauding the life of Turner Sports NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager, prior to an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Sager died Thursday after battling cancer. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Sager had two bone marrow transplants with his son as the donor before undergoing a third one from an anonymous donor four months ago.

He announced in April 2014 that he had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and he missed the playoffs and much of the following season as he underwent the first two transplants. Sager revealed in March 2016 that his leukemia was no longer in remission. He said doctors told him the typical prognosis was three to six months to live.

He was overwhelmed by how news of his fight spread and people across the world started talking about the Sager Strong campaign.

His battle brought out the soft side of Gregg Popovich, the prickly San Antonio Spurs coach with whom he had many memorable exchanges during in-game interviews.

Sager never faulted Popovich for his gruff attitude during those interviews. After learning Sager had died, Popovich spoke somberly for nearly two minutes before a game in Phoenix.

"If any of us can display half the courage he has to stay on this planet, to live every life as if it's his last, we'd be well off," Popovich said.

Sager sported suits in every color of the rainbow and plenty of shades not found in nature, from teal to fuchsia to magenta. He would match plaid blazers with paisley ties or striped shirts — all in bold hues.

Sometimes lost in the glare of his wardrobe was Sager's relentless nature as a reporter. Every time Popovich would give a terse non-answer, an unfazed Sager would pepper him with another question.

Sager's persistence was on display at the start of his career at age 22.

Working for a Braves-affiliated AM radio station in Sarasota, Florida, he hopped a flight to Atlanta for a game with Hank Aaron a home run away from breaking Babe Ruth's career record. After Aaron hit the homer, Sager sprinted onto the field and wound up chasing Aaron down the third-base line. When Aaron's teammates mobbed him at home plate, Sager can be seen in his trench coat in the middle of the scrum.

Sager worked as a reporter on the Olympics, Major League Baseball playoffs, the NFL and the NCAA Tournament, among other sports. But he was indelibly connected to the NBA.

"Craig was as vital to the NBA as the players and coaches," Silver said. "Craig earned widespread respect for his insightful reporting and inspired so many most recently with his courage."

Sager got to cover his first NBA Finals in 2016 through an unusual arrangement between TNT and ESPN, which invited him to join its coverage. He marked the occasion by wearing a blazer with a royal blue floral print. In an interview with LeBron James after Game 6, the Cavaliers star turned the tables to giddily ask Sager a question: "How in the hell do you go 30-plus years without getting a Finals game?"

A native of Batavia, Illinois, Sager attended Northwestern, where he walked onto the football and basketball teams, and served as the school's "Willie the Wildcat" mascot for three years.

He worked at several TV and radio stations in Florida after college before spending two years in Kansas City. Sager joined CNN in 1981 after handling the network's first live remote report during the 1980 baseball playoffs.

Sager was in Dallas for a game in April 2014 when he felt ill and sought treatment from Mavericks team physician Dr. Tarek Souryal, who had previously performed Sager's knee surgery. With a dangerously low hemoglobin count, Sager had six blood transfusions over a 24-hour period before returning to Atlanta. After that came treatments and his public battle with leukemia.

___

AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds and AP freelance writer Jose M. Romero contributed to this report.

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