ESPN handed out its coveted ESPY awards Wednesday night and beloved, colorful NBA broadcaster Craig Sager, a Chicago area native, is among the recipients.
Sager, who is battling an acute form of leukemia, hails from west suburban Batavia. He received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, named for the late basketball coach who battled cancer, at the Microsoft Center in Los Angeles. Vice President Joe Biden presented Sager with the award.
The 24th annual ESPY awards honors the best athletes and their biggest moments of the past year.
SAGER’S EARLY YEARS
Sager got his start in sports while serving as the Willie the Wildcat mascot for Northwestern University’s football and basketball teams. He began his broadcasting career in 1972 and blossomed into one of sports’ most beloved and colorful voices.
In the 47-year-old Batavia High School yearbook, the Nehru jacket and Beatles hairdo marked Sager as an original.
On the high school’s Wall of Fame, the TNT NBA sideline broadcaster — famous for his fashion originality — is remembered as a bright light in a school with traditional small town values, but that celebrates diversity
“When you walk down the hallways you definitely see the purple hair, and the sports jerseys, T-shirts that represent Batavia,” said Principal Joanne Smith of the school.
As Sager takes the stage Wednesday to accept the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, his videotaped thanks to his alma mater last year is remembered.
“This dog is very proud to have been selected to the inaugural class of the Batavia High Hall of Honor,” he said on the taped message.
He was too sick to come then, and as his leukemia returned earlier this year, the ESPYs will provide a stage that Sager will own.
“He is trying to publicize to others that you can carry on a valiant fight and make a good stab at overcoming adversity if you have the spirit, drive and determination to do it,” said Batavia Mayor Jeffrey Schielke, Sager’s classmate.
Schielke always marveled at Sager’s ability to put himself in the conversation, such as when he got up-close to Hank Aaron the night he broke Babe Ruth’s Major League Baseball homerun record
Sager’s colorful fashion sense is a throw-back to one of his past coaches.
“He’s picking up and enhancing an idea that he saw from a gentleman that I think he would tell you is one of his favorite coaches in high school,” Schielke said.
Contrary to reports that Sager has six months to live, Sports Illustrated reports that he is part of a clinic trial at a Houston cancer hospital, which offers hope.
Other award recipients include Zaevion Dobson, a 15-year old from Tennessee who shielded two girls during a December shooting. The high school football star will be honored posthumously with the Arthur Ashe Award. The award went to Caitlin Jenner last year.
Three retiring sports giants will be honored: NBA champ Kobe Bryant, soccer star Abby Wambach and NFL quarterback legend Peyton Manning.
Also, special tribute will be held for heavyweight boxing champ and icon Muhammad Ali, who died last month.
CHICAGO COACH HONORED AT ESPY AWARDS
Retired coach Brian Papa also attended the ESPYs. He retired after 38 years from Lincoln-Way East High School this year.
During his tenure, he picked up 800 wins and is only the third high school coach to win that many games.
Papa received an ESPY award for “Making a Difference on and off the Field.”
Watch the 2016 ESPY Awards hosted by John Cena on Wednesday, July 13 at 8 p.m. ET | 7 p.m. CT on ABC.
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