Editor’s note: TNT sports reporter Craig Sager, who was known for his flashy style on NBA sidelines and his strength in the face of leukemia, has died at the age of 65. This past summer he worked Game 6 of the NBA Finals and received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award from Vice President Joe Biden at the ESPYs. In his acceptance speech, Sager said a cure for cancer will be found, and he vowed to battle on. “I will continue to keep fighting, sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me,” he said. In honor of a man who brought basketball information and joy to millions, here’s a look back at a revealing interview we conducted with him at the All-Star game a few years ago. R.I.P., sir.
There are wild suits, and then there are… the suits worn by TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager. For more than 30 years, he’s been rocking the craziest men’s fashion in sports, and nothing, not even an on-air dressing down by Kevin Garnett (see bottom of page), can stop him.
We shared a few beers with him at NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston (he bought) as he explained his relentlessly flashy sartorial ways. Which, by the way, have their own Tumblr.
“Double-silk Versace, that’s the suit I was wearing when Charles Barkley said, ‘I don’t discriminate against anyone, but I have to draw the line when we have a pimp doing our interviews.’ ”
MADE MAN: So when did you start wearing the wild suits?
CRAIG SAGER: I grew up in Batavia, Illinois, north of Chicago. For my senior picture in high school, we had to wear a black or navy blazer, that was it. I thought that was kind of boring. And so I had this Nehru jacket. It was electric blue with a white collar, like one of the Monkees would have. And so I took the picture in that jacket. So in the yearbook, everybody looks exactly the same except me! And people laughed about it and it was fun. Then after college, I worked in Fort Myers, Florida, and it’s always warm, so I wore bright colors. One thing led to another and it got to a point where I was having fun with it. And I like to shop. I have a place in just about every city where I go and check things out.
MM: What’s the craziest suit you’ve ever worn?
CS: The most exciting one I ever wore was 2001 in Washington. It was that double-silk Versace that’s silver and black, and it is gorgeous. But it illuminates light, and so I was running around the arena, and it just was flashing everywhere, and they actually made me take that off in the middle of All-Star Weekend. The cameras were going nuts and it was causing a scene and people were going crazy. So it’s hanging up in a bar in Atlanta that I own called Jocks & Jill’s. That’s the suit I was wearing when Charles Barkley said, “I don’t discriminate against anyone, but I have to draw the line when we have a pimp doing our interviews.”
MM: What are your favorite places to shop?
CS: There’s a place in Miami called Rex Fabrics. I’ve had stuff made from them before. It’s got really high-end, great material. They do a lot of royalty in Europe. Beautiful stuff. In Dallas I go to Stanley Korshak. Chicago is always Davis for Men. Phoenix there’s a great Neiman Marcus. I just bought this shirt in Oklahoma City at this Teena Hicks store. And all my shoes are from Friedman’s in Atlanta. Always, 100 percent.
“So, you cool if I start calling myself the Purple Mamba? Sleep on it…”
MM: What are the craziest shoes you’ve ever worn?
CS: I’ve had crocodile shoes with eyeballs. So you look at them, they look back at you. I just ordered a pair of python shoes with the heads on the front, and I’ll wear those in the conference finals. They actually have a python head on the front of the shoe. My kids are going to love those.
MM: How much money do you think you’ve spent on your TV outfits over the years?
CS: I’d hate to say. A lot.
MM: How many suits do you own?
CS: Well, somebody from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution came over to my house about two years ago and went in my closets, and she got up to like 135 or something, and stopped counting. And I’ve bought a whole lot since then.
MM: Is there a method to the madness? Something that guides you?
CS: Yeah. There’s a lot. It has to do with the season. It has to do with where the game is. It has to do with the weather that day. I was in Boston recently for the Lakers-Celtics, and it was 20 degrees and they had a huge snowstorm coming in. And so I had on a brown suit. Now, if this was Boston at Lakers, yeah, maybe I’ll wear pastels. Or like in Oklahoma City on Valentine’s Day, I had a red and black suit, and a tie with lipstick kisses on it. If that had been in Miami, I probably would have worn something pink on top of it. But not in Oklahoma City. The city determines a lot of it.
“Red bull? Nah, I’m more of a Dr. Pepper guy…”
MM: Is there anything that you won’t wear?
CS: I don’t wear bowties. I just never have. But, no, I’m open.
MM: Do you wear wild stuff when you’re not working?
CS: Not really. All day, I’ll have jeans on and a golf shirt. People will say, “Oh, we didn’t know you dress normal.” But when I play golf, I always have a bright shirt and those loudmouth shorts that John Daly has. I have tons of those. And because I went to Northwestern, I’ve got tons of purple shirts. But if I’m just running around, I don’t get dressed up. Maybe bright colors, but the suits are a uniform. Like, I’ll take this off before I go out tonight and change into jeans and tennis shoes.
MM: Who do you think is the best dressed around the NBA? Other than you, of course.
CS: Well, some people come looking real sharp, high class, and others just come wearing whatever they have. I think it all changed a lot when the commissioner put that dress code in. Because before, it was the A.I. look with the baggy pants hanging down. But now people are showing a lot of creativity. I mean, Russell Westbrook gets criticized a lot for what he wears, but hey, you gotta give him credit, man. To come up with those fishing shirts and glasses with no lenses in them. I mean, that’s creative! If he’s comfortable in them, I compliment him. I like stuff like that.
MM: Who’s the most difficult athlete you’ve ever had to interview?
CS: Reggie Jackson. We’re friends now, but it took years. He was my toughest.
Sports Emmy? Not bad. Matching your background? Priceless.
MM: Who’s your favorite athlete to interview?
CS: I think when Charles Barkley was playing, it was Charles. He always gave me something funny. And I knew once he became part of our show how great he would be, because he’s just so much fun.
MM: Do you have any style tips for the average guy?
CS: You gotta be comfortable in it. If you’re not comfortable in it, you can’t wear it. And don’t try to wear it. The worst thing is not being comfortable with what you’re wearing. If I have something on and then people make fun of it, I don’t care. If I pick out something and I lay it out in my room or at home before I pack, and I like the fact that I got the checkered shirt and the bright coat and the paisley tie, and it looks good to me, I’m wearing it.
MM: But how do you get comfortable wearing it?
CS: You’ve just got to have confidence in the way you are, and feel like that’s you. Like Gregg Popovich, he keeps saying stuff like “what you’ll do to attract attention” or whatever. He doesn’t understand. I keep telling him, no, that’s me! That’s what I’m comfortable with. I don’t really think I would be comfortable doing an NBA game in a black suit or a blue blazer.
MM: Popovich gives you a pretty hard time, doesn’t he?
CS: I think the world of that guy. Honestly, if I was coaching a team, in the playoffs, it’s the third quarter, it’s a tight game, I’m getting ready to yell at my team for something, and Craig Sager comes up, I wouldn’t want to talk to me either!
MM: How long are you going to keep doing this?
CS: It’s fun! My god, yes. Forever.
For more on Sager and how Shawn Donnelly got this story, click here.