ESPN Commentator John Saunders Dies at 61

John Saunders- ESPN The Party at Fort Mason Center-Getty-H 2016
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"He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family," said network president John Skipper.

John Saunders, a 30-year veteran of ESPN who hosted SportsCenter and the Sunday morning conversation show The Sports Reporters, has died. He was 61. No cause of death was immediately available.

In a career spanning more than four decades, Saunders also did NCAA basketball telecasts, anchored World Series and college football telecasts and presented Rendez-Vous '87, the two-game series between NHL All-Stars and their Soviet counterparts.

On Twitter, ESPN anchor Jay Harris wrote that he served on a panel with Saunders on Friday at the National Association of Black Journalists’ conference in Washington.

"John was an extraordinary talent, and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades," ESPN president John Skipper said Wednesday in a statement. "His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen. More importantly, John was a beloved and devoted family man who cared deeply about people and causes, as evidenced by his long-standing efforts as a passionate board member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research. He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family, as a colleague and mentor, and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this extremely difficult time."

Saunders joined ESPN in 1986 as a SportsCenter anchor. Before that, he worked for WMAR-TV in Baltimore and did play-by-play for the NBA's Toronto Raptors on CKVR-TV in Toronto.

Saunders was a founding member of The V Foundation for Cancer Research. Wendell Pierce portrayed him in the 1996 CBS telefilm Never Give Up: The Jimmy V Story, a biopic about the North Carolina State basketball coach who died of cancer in 1993. 

Born in Alax, Canada, outside Toronto, Saunders attended high school in Montreal and played hockey at Western Michigan University and Ryerson Polytechnical in Toronto. He was a top defenseman in the junior leagues.

Survivors include his wife Wanda, daughters Aleah and Jenna and brother Bernie Saunders, who played two seasons in the NHL.