Craig Sager lands on cover of Sports Illustrated – The News-Press
Craig Sager, working in Detroit over the weekend, encountered some fans who handed him a copy of The News-Press from Sunday, April 10.
“They gave it to me,” Sager said of the newspaper, in which he appeared on the front page. “It was nice.”
The News-Press isn’t the only publication deeming the colorful NBA sideline reporter’s cancer battle a big story.
That same weekend, Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins interviewed Sager for a story appearing on the cover of this week’s issue, dated May 2, 2016.
“When they told me I’d be on the cover, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” Sager said. “I thought they were kidding.”
The cover has the headline “Sideline Strong,” an offshoot of the saying “Sager Strong,” which has been synonymous with Sager’s two-year battle against acute myeloid leukemia. Sager is wearing one of his usual, colorful sport coats.
Sager, 64, began his sportscasting career for WINK-TV in Fort Myers in 1976-79. He spoke to The News-Press on Wednesday from his home in Atlanta, where he received another blood transfusion Monday. He plans on getting back to work again Saturday for the San Antonio Spurs-Oklahoma City Thunder playoff game, to be televised on TNT.
In the Sports Illustrated article, Sager told Jenkins how he used to wear different colored pants at various Lee County high schools – green at Fort Myers, purple at Cypress Lake and maroon at Riverdale.
Sager also told Jenkins about how he covered future Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders as a 12-year-old playing youth football.
“I only knew I was doing it the beginning of last week,” said Jenkins, the magazine’s lead NBA writer. “I didn’t start really reporting it until last Monday. I flew out to Detroit on Wednesday. It was a pretty quick turnaround. But when you have a subject like Craig …
“He was fantastic. I write about premier players. I love writing about them. But when you’re writing about somebody whose gift is telling stories … his gift is storytelling. I’m basically asking him to do what he does for people all the time. It was a very enjoyable process.”
Jenkins received the assignment directly from Sports Illustrated’s managing editor, Chris Stone, who made the decision to put Sager on the cover.
Jenkins did not disagree.
“He’s such a part of the fabric of the league,” Jenkins said of Sager. “Then you add knowing what he’s going through, that resonates in a different way and with a different audience. It’s not just the hardcore NBA audience. This is something that’s relatable.”
Sager’s illness prompted many to recognize Sager as a standout sideline reporter and one of the NBA’s iconic characters.
“That’s sad, and that’s true,” Jenkins said. “That’s what happens with a lot of people, that they’re not wholly appreciated until something like this happens. He has struck such a chord with the NBA on a number of levels.”
Jenkins interviewed a variety of NBA sources, including TNT analyst Kenny Smith and players LeBron James and Chris Paul. Jenkins also interviewed Naveen Pammaraju, one of Sager’s doctors, who said: “A patient who battles this past a year is amazing. What he’s done is almost miraculous.”
Sager working while with a weakened immune system carried risks, the doctor told Sports Illustrated. But so did staying at home.
“But it is the essential question,” Pammaraju said. “What he’s doing has danger. It has risk. Then again, we talk a lot about the mental aspect. Where do you go for your inspiration? For your drive? For him, it’s his job. If he can’t do it, then that could be harmful, too.”
Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).