3 NBA Greats and their Battles with Blood Cancer

Sager and Curry.

Flip Saunders

#Wolvesnation - RIP, 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.”

Craig Sager

Perhaps it’s no accident then that 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At one point, 73 percent of Sager’s bone marrow had been replaced by leukemia cells, which is unsustainable.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. Though Sager is not out of the woods yet, he says he feels better. He will continue undergoing treatment.

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 Rodham Clinton named him “Cultural Ambassador for the United States” in 2012, as one of her accomplishments as Secretary of State.

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 Accessed October 2015.

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

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/ Accessed October 2015.

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 Accessed October 2015.

USA Today. Abdul-Jabbar to visit Capitol Hill on cancer research mission. http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2015/03/16/kareem0abdul-jabbar-cancer-research-capitol-hill-nba/24875153/ Accessed October 2015.

'HLN. I was there': 10 colorful tales from Craig Sager. http://www.hlntv.com/article/2013/11/20/craig-sager-interview-nba-tnt-reporter-interview Accessed October 2015.

Continue Reading