OAKLAND, Calif. — Despite two blood transfusions in the past few days to allow him to work, Craig Sager strolled down the hallway near the Warriors locker room at Oracle Arena with plenty of cool, sporting his customary gaudy, brightly colored suit.
It was a special occasion, this trip. So Sager, fighting leukemia with all of his passion, searched for a tie from Neiman Marcus that would contain the orange-yellow hue of the Golden Gate Bridge. He was proud of the tie.
Sager returned to his sideline analyst position for TNT for the first time since he revealed that his leukemia is no longer in remission. He said patients who are not receiving treatment usually have “3 to 6 months” to live. The outpouring of support and concern reignited for the television favorite.
Sager plans on being around longer than that. He receives two transfusions per week in order to continue to work, and he headed back to Houston late Tuesday night following the Warriors-Wizards game to receive more treatment.
The 64-year-old Sager has been battling leukemia for two years and had been in remission until recently.
Now his battle has intensified.
“It’s to the point where I’m needing it, like platelets like twice a week, which is obviously not good. But it’s keeping me going,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “I have no choice, so I do it twice a week if I’m in Atlanta, and now because I’m going to Houston it’s much easier because I’m in Houston eight days a month doing chemo.”
Sager said doctors have told him that his blood condition has reached a point where even a cut could be life-threatening. He has convinced his Houston-based doctors that he needs to work, and they have allowed him to travel as long as he continues his treatment.
“I tell [the doctors] no, I gotta go, I’d go crazy if I just sat around,” he said. “I gotta be myself and do what I have to do. It keeps me going. It keeps me motivated. It’s therapeutic. It’s a good thing for not only me but the whole family and anybody that’s supporting me and trying to give me prayers and thoughts and on my side to see me out there working and doing the best I can.”
Sager — because of his unique outfits and in-game dialogue with coaches (especially San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich) — has become a television favorite. Players, coaches, fans, media members, and team employees greet him with glee, and that has especially been the case since his leukemia’s recurrence.
“It’s obviously been very surprising and overwhelming the support I’ve gotten,” he said. “So many times when you’re doing a job, you feel like you’re a nuisance at times to people, intruding on their space when you ask them questions, maybe they don’t want to deal with you at the time. And now it’s ‘Hey welcome, where’s Craig?’ Whereas now it’s kind of different.”
Sager said he is not in much pain, although he has a blood clot behind his right ear that affects his hearing. Sager said doctors told him his condition is too delicate to treat the clot, so he has to wait it to dissolve.
Sager said he used to love jogging during his NBA stops, but the pounding on his feet doesn’t allow for that anymore.
“I played golf last week with my kids, took their money,” he said. “I played pretty well. I was very happy. Not hitting it as far, but still playing pretty good. So I like to do that. But as far as pain? I don’t like to complain and I don’t like to talk about what it is and all.”
He has tried to resume a normal life, but has had to interrupt that with the blood transfusions and chemotherapy. He said he plans to work through the playoffs, hoping to be assigned to a Texas-based first-round series because it is near his Houston treatment center.
Sager said he has been named the national spokesperson for leukemia awareness and will speak on Capitol Hill on April 20. Sager and his family also are the subject of a documentary on how leukemia affects patients and their families.
He continues to grind, serving as motivation to masses of NBA fans and those affected by cancer.
“People come up to me and say somebody in their family has cancer and we appreciate what you do and we appreciate your fight and don’t give up, we love your attitude,” he said. “That’s just me. I’ve never had one day where I said ‘why me?’ And I’ve never had one day where I laid in my bed and thought about what reality and the worst things are and was down and started crying. That’s never happened.
“I think my demise has been prematurely reported. That’s what I think. I think I’m going take this and make medical history and I really believe that.”