Sager's love of basketball began in Batavia
Craig Sager's permanent home seemed to be the sideline of an NBA game, but he actually grew up in West suburban Batavia.
His love of basketball grew from a golden era of March Madness in Illinois and led to 26 years of covering NBA games for TNT, where he became best known for his colorful attire. Few broadcasters are as associated with a sports league than Sager was with the NBA.
Sager died Thursday at 65. He was diagnosed in 2014 with acute myeloid leukemia and initially missed work for 11 months while undergoing treatment. His return to the sideline occurred at the United Center for a Bulls-Thunder game on March 5, 2015.
Sager worked sparingly during his illness, but his condition continued to worsen and he became an inspiring figure to NBA player and fans.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement that read, "I -- along with the entire NBA family -- am deeply saddened by the passing of Craig Sager. Craig was as vital to the NBA as the players and coaches. A true original and an essential voice on Turner Sports' NBA coverage for 26 seasons, Craig chronicled some of the most memorable moments in league history and was a ubiquitous presence with his splashy suits and equally colorful personality."
Sager recalled his experience growing up in Batavia during a 2010 interview with the Daily Herald. He attended Batavia High School at the same time as longtime NBA star Dan Issel and future NFL quarterback Ken Anderson.
"It was unbelievable," Sager said. "You talk about Illinois high school basketball -- that epitomized what it was like. Days of games, the whole town would shut down. There wasn't much to shut down in Batavia. At that time, there were no restaurants and no hotels.
"We didn't have a McDonald's or anything. But everybody cared and we'd have caravans from the school. To get tickets to those (state) tournament games, you'd camp out early in the morning. It was kind of like Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium."
Sager went on to attend Northwestern. He failed at an attempt to walk on to the football team, did get some playing time after walking on to the basketball team and spent time wearing the Willie the Wildcat costume.
His career goal was to join Jack Brickhouse on Cubs broadcasts, but he ended up working as a weather forecaster in Tampa, Florida, before becoming a sports anchor. He started working for CNN in March 1981.
Sager's second wife, former Luv-a-Bull Stacey Jo Strebel, is a Rolling Meadows High School grad.
While working the sidelines for TNT, Sager constantly was reminded of his roots in Illinois high school basketball.
"You look at that time, I used to play against (Elgin's) Rick Sund," Sager said. "Doug Collins was playing downstate in Benton. Not too far removed was (Duke coach) Mike Krzyzewski (at Weber High School). (Spurs coach) Gregg Popovich was playing at that time (in Merrillville, Indiana).
"Later, there was Doc Rivers and Isiah Thomas. Before that, we had Jerry Sloan and Jerry Colangelo. There's just a tremendous bond between those of us who played high school basketball in Illinois."