Healthy George Karl starts podcast, may someday coach again
The ex-Sonics coach, who has survived cancer three times, talks about the time he offended Michael Jordan’s sensibilities.
By Pat Graham / Associated Press
DENVER — Truth: George Karl hasn’t felt this healthy in 15, maybe even 20 years. He’s playing plenty of golf, bike riding and finding time for yoga.
Basketball: The longtime NBA coach, who helmed the Seattle SuperSonics from 1992 to 1998, has fought cancer three times but is keeping the door open for getting back into the business, maybe as a head coach or possibly as an assistant.
Truth + Basketball: The title of the 69-year-old Karl’s new, speak-his-mind podcast that he’s finding “soulful.”
He may be leading a quasi-retired lifestyle but make no mistake — he’s not retired.
“I love the game as much as I ever have,” said Karl, who hasn’t coached in the league since being let go by Sacramento following the 2016 season. “If the right situation came up, I might coach again.”
Karl has been quenching his thirst for hoops through his son, Coby, who’s the head coach of the South Bay Lakers, a G League club. George Karl caught quite a few of his son’s games in person before the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. When he wasn’t there, he was always available for advice.
“I don’t get a lot of phone calls when he’s winning. But when he’s losing I get a lot of phone calls,” cracked Karl, who has 1,175 career regular-season wins in stints with Cleveland, Golden State, Seattle, Milwaukee, Denver and Sacramento.
Karl’s name recently surfaced in an episode of “The Last Dance,” an ESPN and Netflix 10-part documentary series about Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Karl was called out by Jordan for not greeting the basketball great while they were at the same restaurant during the 1995-96 NBA Finals, which pitted the Sonics against the Bulls.
Truth: He was in the restaurant and didn’t go over. He doesn’t recall ever walking by Jordan.
Basketball: He warned all his players not to fraternize with Jordan and the Bulls during the series. He didn’t want to give Jordan any added fuel. Turns out, Karl provided extra motivation by not saying hello to his fellow University of North Carolina Tar Heel. Jordan averaged 27.3 points during a series Chicago captured in six games.
“I stood by my code with the team,” explained Karl, who released a book titled ” Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection” in 2017. “I don’t think I’m a rude person.”
These days, Karl’s eating well, getting plenty of exercise and living a “lifestyle of less stress.” That all adds up to this: He hasn’t felt this healthy in a while.
Karl was treated for prostate cancer in 2005 and then in February 2010 announced he had neck cancer, which forced him to take a leave of absence from the Nuggets for treatment and miss the postseason (a first-round loss to Utah). Years later, he revealed he was diagnosed with melanoma of the eye. He received the Melanoma Research Foundation’s Courage Award in 2019 for recognition “of the bravery he has shown in facing ocular melanoma.”
“I don’t wake up worrying about cancer,” Karl said. “But if my back hurts, I think it’s cancer. If my shoulder hurts, I think it’s bone cancer. The first thing I think is cancer.
“Once you have cancer, you have a higher risk of getting another cancer. I know that. But my health is probably as good as it’s been in about 15 or 20 years.”
He was saddened by the loss of Jerry Sloan, who died Friday at 78. Karl has fond memories of matchups against Sloan, who spent 23 seasons as coach of the Utah Jazz.
“Jerry was a very loyal and very demanding old-school coach,” Karl said.
Truth: Karl started his podcast with co-producers, Brett Goldberg, Bradley Burns and Mikey Goldenberg, in January to get fans to think differently about hoops.
Basketball: There’s plenty of hoops insight in the podcast. He’s discussed a little bit of everything:
• In an episode titled “The Curious Case of Carmelo,” he addresses his relationship with Carmelo Anthony while both were in Denver: “He was so talented. I look at myself as I failed a little bit with Melo. Because I couldn’t get him to the greatness of his talents. I feel I failed in getting him to the best of the best. I also feel I helped him get to being pretty damn good.”
• In a special edition titled “Kobe,” Karl talked about Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January: “There’s no question Kobe Bryant made the game of basketball a better place, a better game.”
• In one titled “The Fall: 1994 Sonics vs. Nuggets Playoffs,” Karl discussed top-seeded Seattle losing to the underdog Nuggets in Game 5: “Painful. Miserable. … The disappointment of the city of Seattle still lingers in my mind of (Dikembe) Mutombo laying on his back with that ball in the air. I want to kick it.”
Delving into specific topics is a reason why Karl enjoys the podcast: “We can go a little deeper and be a little more soulful,” Karl mused.
As for a return to the coaching ranks, he’s not ruling it out. Maybe later, though, after his teenage daughter heads to college.
“Right now, I don’t mind mentoring my son and my friends,” Karl said, “and just hanging around the gym with the opportunity to talk basketball.”
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