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'I was there': 10 colorful tales from Craig Sager

  • Craig Sager has been dubbed the NBA's greatest showman
  • He tells HLN the untold stories behind some of the best moments in sports history
  • You'll never believe who he says has the league's best dancers
'I was there': 10 colorful tales from Craig Sager

Don't adjust your TV: 'Sagervision' is back

Don't adjust your TV: 'Sagervision' is back

Editor's note: recently caught up with TNT's sideline NBA reporter Craig Sager before he heads to the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic* in Brooklyn, New York.

The greatest showman in the NBA, Craig Sager has seen and covered some of the best sports stories in the modern era.

Here are 10 of the most awesome behind-the-scenes stories as related by Sager about the sports world around him:

1. Sager was a pretty good athlete, until he got hurt:

"While I was playing basketball at Northwestern University I was pretty agile and then all my friends wanted me to play football, so I joined the team. But I got injured, so I couldn't travel with the team anymore. So they told me I could be Willie the Wildcat [the mascot]. So, that's how I got to travel with the team. My first game as Willie was at Ohio State."

2. He was beat up once, by Ohio State:

“My first game as Willie, we beat Ohio State, and haven’t done it since. After the game I go out on the court, I’m celebrating. Ohio State players got really mad. All of a sudden I'm surrounded, and they start poking me. It started to get pretty rough. I’m out there and they turned me into a sacrificial lamb. Word got to the Northwestern players. They came out and saved me.”

3. He started off far from the broadcasting booth:

"I thought I’d be an assistant to [legendary Chicago Cubs announcer] Jack Brickhouse at Wrigley Field. Instead, I ended up in Sarasota, Florida, working three jobs, one of them as a reporter at the local station, another as a bartender at Big Daddy's."

4. His creative sports acumen got him hired by Ted Turner:

"Ted Turner called me up. I was doing a game in Kansas City in 1980 and the Royals wouldn’t give him press credentials. They said, 'CNN? What’s CNN?' So after I did my broadcast, I took what I did and repackaged it for CNN and gave it to him. Ted liked that. He hired me. CNN started June 1, 1980. They hired me March 23, 1981. I was Employee No. 343."

5. He witnessed Hank Aaron's record-breaking homerun No. 715 in 1974:

"I was working at Sarasota and we were an affiliate Braves radio network. I told my boss that I wanted to go to Atlanta and he told me, ‘You can do whatever you want, but you’ll be fired if you’re not back in time for work.’ At that time there were two airlines that flew straight to Atlanta -- Eastern and National Airlines. I bought the ticket on my own.

Because Hank was a right-hander all of the press were on first base. I was all by myself on third. When he hit it, I just ran out there."

6. The Baseball Hall of Fame did him a solid for that Aaron interview:

"That interview I did with him is the audio they play in Cooperstown (the New York site of the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum). I have a lifetime pass because of that. So, yeah, at 21 I reached the pinnacle of my career!"

7. The most awesome NBA play he's even seen happened in Cleveland:

"When the Bulls defeated the heavily favored Cleveland Cavs because of 'The Shot,' Michael Jordan’s air-defying jumpshot over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 playoffs."

“I was there. I was standing there at the time with Michael Jordan’s father. They [MJ and Ehlo] both jumped in the air, but one came down, and he’s [MJ] still up there. And he makes the shot. I was calling the game and there was shock and disbelief. Funny thing, years later, I was doing a story for 'Hang Time,' and I took the tape of that shot to Georgia Tech to see if there’s really such a thing as hang time. They said, 'There’s no such thing.' But I showed them the video and all these researchers and scientists broke it down. They were baffled. They were dumbfounded. 

They tried to say he must have been kicking his legs like a butterfly. They broke it down frame by frame and sure enough, Jordan was literally in the air longer than Ehlo.

8. There are some colors you won’t catch him in:

"I don’t like a lot of browns. I made an exception one year for Thanksgiving when I had the suit made of real turkey feathers, but that’s it. Also, not a lot of black -- no dull colors. Think of a overcast day. I don’t like those colors. Now, a sunny, sun-shiny day, that’s what I like to wear."

9. There are few NBA players who can match him in style. Very few: 

"Before the dress code, players dressed any way they wanted. When the dress code came out, certain players decided to put some thought into it. If I had to pick one, though, I’d say Charles Oakley. Sometimes you’d see him and go, ‘Jesus, nobody would wear that.’ Then, I’d look down and notice that I’m wearing the same suit. Also, [Oklahoma City Thunder guard] Russell Westbrook wears some creative clothes."

10. One franchise has the NBA's best dancers:

" Oh, no question. The Chicago Luvabulls. They started out about the time Michael Jordan was coming through. Back then they would have tryouts every night and pay the girls $25 and two tickets to the ballgame. That was quite a ticket -- they got to see Michael Jordan for free! Plus, I married one of the Luvabulls, my wife Stacy."

*This year's Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic (November 22 & 23) features such college basketball powerhouses as Michigan State, Oklahoma, Seton Hall and Virginia Tech. The CVS program is an initiative of the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches, which raises awareness about cancer and the fight against it. 

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