Many people know Craig Sager as the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster for Turner Sports who has become synonymous with the NBA over his more than four decades on air. He has also reported on MLB, the NFL, college football, twelve Olympic Games, the PGA Tour, Wimbledon, the World Cup, the Goodwill Games, and horse racing for TNT, CNN, CBS, and NBC.
When he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) there was an outpouring of love and support from everyone who was inspired by his colorful life and his fearless decision to continue doing the job he loved—despite being told that he would have only three-to-six months to live. Sager has undergone three stem cell transplants—with his son as the donor for two of them—and more than twenty chemotherapy cycles since his diagnosis.
In Living Out Loud, Craig Sager shares incredible stories from his remarkable career and chronicles his heroic battle. Whether he’s sprinting across Wrigley Field mid-game as a college student with cops in pursuit, chasing down Hank Aaron on the field for an interview after Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, running with the bulls in Pamplona, or hunkering down to face the daunting physical challenges of fighting leukemia, Craig Sager is always ready to defy expectations, embrace life, and live it to the fullest.
Art Eddy: Let’s first talk about your new book Living Out Loud. You teamed up with your son, Craig to write this book. Talk to me about what is was like to write the book with your son.
Craig Sager: I have been approached before about writing a book. I kept saying no because of not only what I have been going through, but how it is affecting the family. I just didn’t want to rehash it and relive it. I didn’t want to make it a chronological diary of what medicine and what chemo I have been through.
Then I ran into Brian Curtis at the Final Four in Houston. He had a different approach. He wanted to make it on the perspective of what I was going through and the perspective of what my son, who is the donor was going through and about your positive attitude. I had some interest at that point.
He said there would be a cash advance. I told him that I don’t want any of the money. Give it to Craig Junior and that will help him get on his feet with his career. He is a terrific writer. If I have any coming my way I would either put it into the kids college funds. My young ones are only 11 and 10. Or we can give it to charity.
I think the turning point was when I was going to be in the hospital for three months. I ended up being in there for 85 consecutive days. That was over twelve weeks. I just didn’t want to sit there and stare at walls for twelve weeks. I wanted to be somewhat productive. I thought the timing was perfect. I got time on my hands. So I went forward with the task of writing it.
AE: Your son aided you with a bone marrow transplant to help reboot your immune system. As a father we try to whatever we can for our kids. What did it mean to you for your son to return that favor with the bone marrow transplant?
CS: When raising kids, you want the best for them. You want them to have more than you growing up. You hope that they are successful. You want to send them to the right schools and give them opportunities. In turn the greatest compliment they can say is that they want to grow up and be like you.
The fact that I was so reliant on Junior to save my life with a bone marrow transplant not once, but twice I told him that I want to grow up to be like you. He became my blood brother literally because his bone marrow as put into my system. I have two older daughters and they wanted to be the donor. There is no sure way that it will be anyone in your family. Nobody may be the match you need. So after a few tests he came back with six out of six. After a few more molecular studies he came back with being ten out of ten. He did a great job and now we are attached at the hip.
AE: In Living Out Loud was there anything that you were on the fence to put into your book?
CS: Maybe a little bit. We were collaborating with Brian Curtis, who had written several best sellers. I went with his train of thought about how it would all make sense and how it would all tie together. It was his idea that I would write a chapter. Then Junior would write a chapter on the same subject. Whether it be the day of the transplant or the process of going through it or whether it was interviewing Coach (Gregg) Popovich. It turned out to be a great idea.
I had to toy with how to begin the book. A logical way would have been April, 14th 2014 going from locker to locker room and then running into a brick wall and being sent to the hospital. Then being diagnosed and all of that, but that is a negative. I don’t want to start with that. So I thought let’s start with my love for the Cubs. June 1st I threw out the first pitch and sang Take Me out to the Ballgame. I had all five of my kids there. I had my sister there. I had family and friends there. I bought 46 tickets. We had a great time. The Cubs won.
We went to print before the World Series and playoffs. The fact that they won it made it so much better. It was a lucky decision on our part. Thanks to the Cubs for making it all happen. It was hard to get started and know which direction to go. I started telling Brian some of my stories. I told him here are my friends. Give them a call. He felt that it was important that people knew that my entire life I was pushing the envelope and taking chances and not taking no for an answer. He wanted to put a lot in there. I told him I had no skeletons in my closet. We went off in that direction. We were honest about some of the things that I did as a kid. Some of those things are things I wouldn’t want my children to do, but I did them and lived to talk about it. (Both laugh.)
AE: You do great work at TNT and one of your colleagues, Charles Barkley wrote the foreword for your book. Charles even flew to see you when doctors told him not to travel on a plane. What did Charles’ words mean to you that he wrote for your book?
CS: As Charles so eloquently wrote that I have known him since he played at Auburn. He was always one of my favorite interviews. Once he joined us at Turner we became close friends. He knows my family. He has been around everybody from my parents to my kids. He is just a tremendous guy. What you see is what you get.
He calls to check in. He either calls me or Stacy. He will say, ‘How is my boy doing?’ Of all the people he is the one that check in the most. He really cares. I said to him if he would be interested in writing the foreword. He goes, ‘Oh hell yes. Just give me some time.’
You can tell by the comments that he put in there that he had given it a lot of thought. When I was going to receive the ESPY from ESPN at the Jimmy V Awards I thought I had the choice of who was going to introduce me. I told them it should be Charles. They said no you don’t choose, we do. Then they came up with Vice President Biden. I said okay good choice. (Both laugh.) I think he had some words set in place back in July for the ESPY’s. It was really nice what he said in there. He is a great friend and a tremendous supporter.
AE: What it is like to see a game from your point of view when you are on the sidelines?
CS: I am a fan. I don’t want to miss anything. I never missed a day of work in my life until I came down with this leukemia. That covers over thirty some years. I don’t know if it is the Wally Pipp Syndrome or I just love my job so much. I can’t wait to get back to it again. I asked my doctors last when on when I can go back to work. They said once you can start making white blood cells and not needing blood transfusions then you can go back to work. They told me that I need to rest and get make my immune system stronger.
It is one of those roles where I get to do what everyone else wants to do. It is a big game and people will pay thousands of dollars for a ticket. I got the best seat in the house. People stand in lines for hours on end to meet some of these athletes and I am the first one to talk to them after a game. I am the first to get some insight to what is happening and how they are responding. It is very, very rewarding and very therapeutic with what I have been going through. For the players to respond the way they have is special.
AE: What were some of the first few thoughts that popped into your mind when you found out that you were going to be a dad?
CS: I wasn’t going to change. Yes, a family expands and there are certain things that you have to take care of, but I didn’t want to change who I was. I didn’t want to change my work schedule. I didn’t want to cut back because I was a father. My dad worked twenty hour days. He owned an advertising agency. When he retired I saw how not lost he was, but how he didn’t feel important anymore. Outside of doing the New York Times crossword puzzle every day or playing golf where he lost to my mom every time he was not the same.
I said that I got to keep working. I got to keep churning. I can’t be satisfied with where I am. Now that I am a father I have to set an example for my kids. I want to set an example of a work ethic. I want to set the example of being positive. Turning negatives into positives of how to live and how to work. I would try to go to every game or practice that they had. Go to school with them for lunch at least once a week in the school cafeteria. Just make plans where I can spend as much time as I possibly could without jeopardizing who I was or what I did or how I got to where I am.
AE: What are some of the core values you look to instill in your children as they grow up?
CS: Responsibility. Accountability. Work Ethic. Krista, my 25 year old, she has a plaque hanging out in her elementary school. She did not miss a day of school and nor was she tardy for all her years in elementary school. She did not miss one day of school. My oldest, Kacy, she missed one. That was when her aunt passed away. My son Craig missed two when he had chicken pox at the same time Craig Maddox had it. (Both laugh.)
Other than that they went to school every day. They learned about responsibility. They learned it on their own. I would help them with their homework once and a while, but there was never any short cuts. I never did their homework for them. They did it themselves. The work ethic that people credit me with I didn’t invent that. I inherited that from my father. I always give him credit for that. My mother was very outgoing and very friendly and tried out all different types of things. My dad once made a comment about something on the lack of intelligence. I don’t know what they were arguing about. She then said that she was going to learn how to fly an airplane. He said she would never learn how to fly. She went out for flying lessons. The next thing you know she is flying over Sarasota, Florida in a plane. Once she set it down she never flew again. She was looking to prove a point. You can say the right things, but if you don’t live them out your kids will see right through you.
AE: What advice do you have for new dads?
CS: Well I can’t give other people advice and tell them how to raise their kids. Everyone has different situations. I have been in a great one. People always say if I had to do it over again I would spend more time with my kids. That is easy to say. I think with my two younger ones what I have done differently if anything is that I always bring them with me. If it is the World Series or an NBA All-Star game I do everything I possibly can to bring them with me.
The most time you can spend with them is precious. There is no limit on the amount of time there is, but you can’t measure it. You can’t buy it. You can’t wager it with God. It is simply how you live your life. I try to live it every day with a smile on my face. I don’t let things bother me. I don’t get unnerved about anything in regards to assignments or going to places. I just want them to be the same way so they can enjoy life and enjoy every day.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: Do you guys have a favorite family movie you like to watch together?
AE: Do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to sing and dance to?
CS: It differs for every kid. Krista is now 25, but every night when she was younger before she would go to bed I would have to read Miss Piggy and the Giant Bubble. When she was around two she would wait for her part to yell out POP. We would do that every night.
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
AE: Out of your many awesome suits do you have a favorite?
CS: The one that I have on the cover of the book is the one I wore for the ESPY’s. That is probably my new number one favorite.
AE: Tell me your thoughts when you saw your son interview San Antonio Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich?
CS: I was thinking wow this is unbelievable. He has been a great friend. He calls in and checks on me all the time. He gives me updates on what he is doing. He has been a great supporter. To be as gracious as he was with my son and even said that he would be nice to me when I get back. I said to him that he can’t be nice to me it wouldn’t be the same. He said that he wouldn’t be nice to me very long. I told him that I look forward to him going Serbian on me. That what his players call him when he starts yelling at them.
Make sure you pick up Craig’s book Living Out Loud wherever books are sold.