NBA icon Craig Sager's perseverance takes him to the NBA finals

Basketball world rallies around veteran NBA r... 04:37

For the past two years, Craig Sager has been a lesson in perseverance, traveling the country and working games, all while fighting for his life against leukemia.

But in a unique opportunity for the veteran sideline reporter, the NBA icon will work his first championship game Thursday night, reports CBS Sports' Dana Jacobson.

"The chance that I could do a game was like wow, of course I'll jump at it," Sager said.

But the chance seemed unlikely at first. When he finished his eight days of chemotherapy after the conference finals, the only date he could make was Game 6 and at that point, the Golden State Warriors were beating the Cavaliers 3-1.

"And we go, there may not be a Game 6. I was sitting there and of course, journalists are not supposed to have a rooting interest - but to hell with that," Sager laughed.

The Cavaliers came back in Game 5. With that win, the long-time NBA on TNT sideline reporter will sport his loudest fashion choices for ESPN on ABC.

"I get this call and they go, you know, 'Do you want to do the finals?' and I go, 'Yeah, I guess, I've never, never done the finals,'" Sager recalled. "Especially for somebody who's done as many thousands of games as I have, it kind of takes you one step further."

Sager has been part of the very fabric of the NBA for more than a quarter century, but because TNT doesn't broadcast the finals, he's never gotten to work one of those games. He is well known to fans for his outrageous attire.

"Where did that come from, the outfits?" Jacobson asked.

"Something that I've always been. Always lively," Sager said. "I don't want to be dull."

And you can bet that Sager will bring plenty of life to his outfit for the championship game.

"Well I'll tell you my closet was pretty barren. I pretty much run through the gamut during our conference finals and so I sat there and said I've got to come up with something new," Sager said. "So I went shopping. It's got some flowers, it's got some life to it." After an 11-month absence, Sager returned to the sidelines at the end of last year, still fighting acute myeloid leukemia - a rare blood and bone marrow cancer.

"I realized it's not about me. It's about what I represent," Sager said. "It's bigger than me. It's... I represent somebody who's fighting evil. I'm fighting cancer and I refuse to give up."

His illness has also not gotten in the way of his work.

"It keeps me going, inspires me. It's therapeutic," Sager said. "And it just gives me something to look forward to. Sports are in my soul. That's what drives me."

Sager and his wife Stacy have five kids.

"When Stacy, my bride, first found out, we held each other and I could feel the trembling in her tears and she said, 'Don't leave me,'" Sager recalled. "She says, 'We can fight this together, don't leave me.' I said, 'I won't leave you. I'm going to fight.'"

Next month at ESPN's ESPY Awards, the 64-year-old Sager will accept the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. Named for NCAA Coach Jim Valvano, who in 1993, while battling cancer, gave an impassioned speech about the preciousness of life. He died later that year.

Sager said the standards were "hard to beat," but Valvano's speech has helped him cope through difficult times.

"I always had that speech and when I was in the hospital, there were some very dark moments. I would get on my phone and have a speech there and I'd play a speech," Sager said.

"Can anything keep you down?" Jacobson asked.

"Well mentally, no I don't think so. Physically, yeah, there have been some times where it's knocked me on my ass, but mentally, no. I'm determined to win this battle," Sager said.

Sager's treatment right now is a clinical trial. He hopes it will rid him of cancer or get him ready for a third bone marrow transplant.

He also has another big assignment coming up - the Olympics in Rio this summer.