3 NBA Greats and their Battles with Blood Cancer

Craig Sager and Other NBA Greats: Inspiration to Us All

Sager and Curry.

No, it is not just you. In recent years, those intimately involved with NBA basketball have had their lives touched by blood cancer, specifically leukemia and lymphoma, at a higher rate than would seem fair.

It is difficult to see people you admire, maybe people you have been following for years, face a life-threatening disease; however, people in the spotlight who battle cancer are inspirational to us all.

They summon courage from the depths of their humanity, and in so doing, tend to refocus us on the things that are truly important in life.

RIP Craig Sager

Craig Graham Sager, Sr. (June 29, 1951 - December 15, 2016)

In ESPN's interview of David Levy from Turner Sports, we got a glimpse of the man and the organization he graced with his tenure: "Craig Sager was a beloved member of the Turner family for more than three decades and he has been a true inspiration to all of us," Turner president David Levy said in a statement. "There will never be another Craig Sager. His incredible talent, tireless work ethic and commitment to his craft took him all over the world covering sports."

Craig Sager has been described as “the greatest showman in the NBA.” According to Mashable, “Sager is perhaps most widely known for the gaudy suits he wears on the sidelines. But he's earned deep industry respect through a journalism career with more credentials than many realize.”

Sager felt ill before a game in Dallas in April 2014. After testing, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. His son announced the diagnosis, and the following day there were some 24,000 mentions on Twitter. Sager had aggressive chemotherapy and returned to his position at TNT in March 2015, but later the same month, the leukemia had returned.

At one point, 73 percent of Sager’s bone marrow had been replaced by leukemia cells, which is unsustainable. Sager received a bone marrow transplant at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX – and his son, Craig Jr, was the donor.

Before AML took him, Sager had bravely undergone multiple bone marrow transplants—a process by which the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, which succumb to chemotherapy, are replaced by healthy cells from a living donor.

In response to the news of Sager's death, Magic Johnson and many other NBA stars took to social media to offer words of support and admiration.

RIP Flip Saunders

Philip Daniel "Flip" Saunders (February 23, 1955 – October 25, 2015)

Cleveland native Flip Saunders had averaged more than 32 points a game as a senior in high school. In college, at the University of Minnesota, he played with several future NBA players. As a coach, he had more than 1,000 victories over 35 years of coaching, including enviable stays with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons. He became a well-known offensive coach, developing a special rapport with Kevin Garnett, who currently plays for the Timberwolves.

Flip Saunders announced in August of 2015 that he had Hodgkin lymphoma – a cancer of the blood and lymph system that is usually considered very treatable and curable.

At the time, he even planned to stay on as the Timberwolves' head coach.

He had a setback in September 2015, however, and was hospitalized. Later it was announced that he would miss the whole 2015-16 season.

What kind of man was Saunders? His social media presence says it all. Here is his tweet from August 11, 2015 (3.4K favorites and counting):  "The outpouring of support today has been overwhelming, has truly reminded me that the goodness of people should never be questioned."

Flip Saunders died Sunday, October 25, 2015, and is survived by his wife, Debbie, and children Ryan, Mindy and twins, Rachel and Kimberly.

Ryan is an assistant coach for the Timberwolves.

Soon after the announcement that cancer had taken Saunders, Kevin Garnett posted a picture of himself sitting in Saunders’ vacant parking spot, with the caption, “Forever in my heart.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

You may know Kareem as the native New Yorker, six-time MVP, 7-foot-2 NBA Hall of Famer who retired in 1989. He is also a best-selling author, a cultural critic, amateur actor, and politically, he is popular with the left in America—Hillary Clinton once named him “Cultural Ambassador for the United States.” Politics aside, Kareem’s record in basketball is remarkable. He also happens to be a cancer advocate.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a form of leukemia known as Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, or Ph1-positive CML. He said he first realized something was wrong when he began having hot flashes and unusual sweating. He saw his doctor and blood work revealed he had an extremely high white blood cell count.

CML, also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. It's a relatively slow growing leukemia, but it can change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is more difficult to treat. Each year, there are an estimated 6,660 new cases and 1,140 deaths from CML, according to the American Cancer Society.

According to CNN, Abdul-Jabbar is launching a related Facebook page -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Patient Advocate -- supported by the pharmaceutical company, which manufactures drugs to treat this and other types of cancer.


CNN. Basketball great Abdul-Jabbar has cancer. http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/10/abdul.jabbar.cancer/index.html?_s=PM:US

Mashable. Craig Sager feels 'terrific' about NBA return after leukemia battle. http://mashable.com/2015/10/27/craig-sager-nba-return/#WdCZ87naO05a

USA Today. Flip Saunders' humanity and decency are his most enduring qualities. http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/twolves/2015/10/25/flip-saunders-dies-tribute-appreciation/74595110/

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 'clears the air' in HBO documentary. http://www.newsday.com/sports/basketball/kareem-abdul-jabbar-clears-the-air-in-hbo-documentary-1.11017132

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