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Craig Sager dies following long cancer fight

The unabashed fashion daredevil was a living lesson in individuality. He passed away on Thursday at age 65.

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The inestimable Craig Sager, a longtime Turner broadcaster and NBA sideline fixture — best known, however, as a fashion daredevil — has died at the age of 65 following a lengthy battle with cancer. He brought splashes of color and patterns to the game that will never be forgotten and can never be matched.

Sager’s passing puts him on the unfortunate list of creative visionaries who have passed this year, all of whom left behind permanent impressions in their respective fields: David Bowie (musician), Prince (musician), Gwen Ifill (journalist), Sharon Jones (musician), Leonard Cohen (musician), John Glenn (astronaut), Harper Lee (author), Arnold Palmer (golfer), Pat Summit (women’s head basketball coach), Elie Wiesel (author and activist), and Muhammad Ali (boxer and activist).

Indeed, 2016 has been a cruel and somber year. But we all should be grateful to have witnessed the contributions of these greats — not only to their respective fields, but to humanity at-large. These people pushed boundaries and elevated standards of excellence. They spoke out when it was unpopular to do so. They didn’t take no for an answer. In some cases, they risked their lives for greatness; in others, they risked only their pride to be able to fly their freak flags high.

To even have a freak flag in a society that largely dictates conformity and uniformity — to dare to be different — is an act of bravery. This is especially true in certain spaces, like sports. Thus, each suit that Sager wore was a full embrace of his uniqueness with total disregard for what others thought of him. In some ways, his fashion choices could be considered playful acts of defiance. Now more than ever, our society needs people like Sager — firecrackers who bring excitement to the banality some call normalcy.

No NBA player challenged Sager on his bold attire more than noted trash-talker, Kevin Garnett. If the comments bothered Sager, he didn’t show it — he accepted them with a smile and a laugh.

And, then there’s this:

And, finally, with minor collaboration from Carmelo Anthony:

The point here, is that with every ribbing, insult or putdown, Sager returned to the sidelines for the next game in colors brighter and more discordant than the last. Shouldn’t we all embrace such derring-do? Work ceaselessly to live up to the characteristics of our true selves and our true potential, no matter what others have to say about it?

Sager was respected league-wide, including by members of Golden State. Here are the messages of condolences, respect and well-wishes from the Warriors’ Big 4:

Klay Thompson, via Twitter
Draymond Green, via Twitter
Stephen Curry, via Twitter
Kevin Durant, via Twitter

It is heartbreaking to see another life cut short by cancer. It is heartbreaking to see another fiery individual depart. But there is probably no better way to honor Sager’s memory than to find our true selves and live life authentically.

There undoubtedly will be a somber tone to tonight’s contest against the Knicks. But, hopefully, it will be celebratory, too. Sager clearly was about joy and fun, so hopefully players will play their hearts out, fans will be at their peak enthusiasm, and those watching at home will find some way to pay tribute. Putting on a pair of mismatched socks should do.

Sager is survived by his wife and five children, the entire NBA community, and basketball fans worldwide. In an interesting twist, two of Sager’s children are named Riley and Ryan (the names of Stephen Curry’s two young daughters).

Craig Sager II, via Twitter

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