TNT’s NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager is literally in the fight of his life as he battles leukemia for the second time since his initial diagnosis in 2014. In an article released in yesterday’s issue of Sports Illustrated, Sager opened up to discuss his various treatments and the “Sager Strong” movement that has moved across the NBA and social media like a tidal wave. He also shared certain personal stories about the biggest names in the NBA over the course of his long career on the hardwood.
The most shocking part of the article involved a new piece of information regarding a Bulls legend.
Bulls fans remember Dennis Rodman for his rebounding and defensive tenacity on the court. First, he was the most annoying guy on the Bad Boy Pistons teams of the late 1980s that regularly knocked Michael Jordan to the ground and out of the playoffs. Then Rodman teamed up with Jordan and Scottie Pippen during the team’s second three-peat from 1995-98. He instantly won over fans in Chicago for his never-say-die attitude and willingness to sacrifice his body. The guy was relentless with his rebounding. In case you forgot, here’s a reminder.
The rest of the NBA and the world remember Rodman for his off-the-court antics. The tattoos, the dyed hair, the cross-dressing, the alcohol-soaked parties in Vegas, and of course…the women. Dennis was the humble kid from the projects, but money and fame turned him into The Worm. He battled with depression, and his dark side nearly destroyed him.
Rodman’s darkest hour
By 1993, the Bad Boy Pistons were a thing of the past. His final season in Detroit, Rodman struggled without several of his departed championship teammates. Their coach Chuck Daly, who was a father figure for Dennis, had left to coach the New Jersey Nets. To make matters worse, he was going through a painful divorce at the same time. In the darkest hours of his life, the NBA Hall of Famer was in a Detroit strip club talking about committing suicide later that night. That’s when Sager found him.
“The Landing Strip, ” Sager recalls. “He had the gun. He was going to do it. I told him how stupid that would be.”
Rodman was hours away from ending his own life. In one of his autobiographies Bad As I Wanna Be (if you haven’t read it, you should) he talks about reversing the script on his life in that moment. He took some control back from his inner demons and went on to win three more championships with the Bulls. So the fans can add that to the list of reasons to love Craig Sager. And apparently, Rodman has felt a special bond with Sager ever since that dark night in Detroit.
I got your back
In the SI column, Sager discusses the overwhelming support he’s received from professional athletes of past and present while he fights leukemia. But anyone can send one text or make one phone call. Constant, steady support takes more time and effort. Among the names he mentions, Rodman stands out:
Sager writes the names and numbers of everyone who calls him on three-by-five index cards. He walks around with a stack. Rodman calls all the time. Karl Malone called. Phil Mickelson called.
Dennis calls all the time. That’s pretty remarkable considering no one knows where he is on any given day. North Korea? Vegas? Last week he was down in Florida promoting a new piece of artwork. In spite of the crazy life Rodman appears to still be living, he’s made time to offer constant support to his friend Sager.
As a Bulls fan, this news made me feel really, really good. Dennis Rodman endured so many character assassinations in his career. Some of them are deserved. As he said himself in his emotional Hall of Fame induction speech, he wishes he was a better father. But I always defended Rodman against his haters, not just because I loved to watch him play basketball. I always believed that deep down, Dennis had a good heart. You saw him wear his heart on his sleeve on the court, and I loved that about him.
Two saved lives
23 years ago, Dennis Rodman came very close to taking his own life. Craig Sager found him, counseled him, and saved him. Fast forward to the present, and Sager is in his own fight to survive. His body is being attacked by disease, rather than his brain being attacked by itself. Only Rodman and Sager know exactly what their individual fights entail every day, every hour. But the two of them share a very special bond: they both know that the other’s life is worth saving. Worth fighting for. And they’re in this fight together.