Here is a link to my column about George Karl. The full text runs below:
I had the pleasure of covering George Karl, reportedly hired by the Sacramento Kings as their coach.
Karl, 63, coached the Warriors in the mid-1980s and I wrote about that team and got to know Karl. He was an exuberant man. You might say eccentric. After a playoff game, he became enraged at center Joe Barry Carroll for apparently not playing hard, for apparently not caring. Karl walked to Carroll’s locker and tore it apart. Tore it to pieces. That’s what I’d heard.
A few days later, I dropped by the arena and asked Karl about the locker. He left his office and took me to the locker room and presented his work. Someone had repaired the upper part of the cubicle, a cubby for wallet, keys, and personal items. But the repair work was hasty and I could see scarred wood and wood glue. Karl and I laughed about that, laughed about him. He had gone over the top.
You always could talk to him. On the phone. At the arena. Anywhere. He was honest — to his own detriment. Never lied. Never held back. He was a young man making his way and needed to learn wisdom and prudence. He learned. Learned when to talk and when to be silent. Learned when to take an action and when to do nothing.
After he left the Warriors, he coached the Seattle SuperSonics. One night he came to the arena in Oakland. We met in a hallway before the game and I could see he was agitated. He needed this game. Needed this win. He had heard one of his players had stayed out late the night before. Maybe it was true. Maybe it wasn’t. Karl was worried the player was not ready to perform. Karl paced the hallway. I thought he moaned.
The player did not play well. Seattle lost. Karl was learning — had learned — the deep-down truth about his profession. He could be coach but he couldn’t be God. Couldn’t control everything. He accepted that. He didn’t destroy a locker or knock over a basket support or howl at the moon.
Last season he was out of the league. We talked on the phone and he said, “I want to coach. It is what I do.”
He ranks sixth on the all-time win list of NBA coaches and easily will pass Phil Jackson, No. 5, maybe pass Jackson this season.
He has learned to be a great coach, among the best ever. He is patient and smart and he loves ball. Understands ball. About Chris Mullin, Karl told me, “Chris was a great passer. When he retired, they closed down that factory.” Meaning no one passes like Mullin.
Karl is a model of grownup behavior. His voice is soft – therapist soft. He is the consummate teacher. He has become what they call a player’s coach. And he is a winner.
Two years ago, the Warriors played the Denver Nuggets — Karl’s Nuggets — in the first round of the playoffs. Word came out Karl wanted to rough up Stephen Curry. This may or may not have been true. Warriors coach Mark Jackson made a big deal of it. You half-expected Nuggets players to whack Curry with a tire iron. The Nuggets did not play dirty.
During the series, I phoned Karl to ask about Curry. He never phoned back. Before the next game — it was in Oakland — Karl conducted his pregame news conference. Lots of reporters. When it was over, Karl took me aside. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you back,” he said. “We have a good group here. We are a non-gossip group. We keep things inside the team.”
Karl had come a long way since Joe Barry Carroll’s locker.
The Warriors eliminated the Nuggets, eliminated them in Oakland. Big upset. Denver played hurt. Danilo Gallinari didn’t appear in the series and Kenneth Farried was ineffective because of injuries. Karl had his excuses but he didn’t make excuses.
After the final game, after all the interviews, after I wrote my column, I walked across the dimly-lit court through a tunnel and down a hallway to the visitors’ locker room. It must have been 11:30 at night. I didn’t expect Karl to be in there, thought he’d be long gone. But I took a chance, wanted to wish him well.
I walked through the quiet deserted locker room to the visiting coach’s office. Karl sat at his desk.
“Hi, old man,” I said.
He looked at me. Surprised.
I took in the scene. Karl’s entire coaching staff had assembled in the office. Some coaches sat on the couch, others on straight-backed chairs. All held pads on their laps and were writing. Karl was leading the discussion. He was writing, too.
I didn’t belong. I said, “Good luck” and started to leave. He said “Thanks” and got back to the extraordinary meeting. His team just got eliminated and Karl wasn’t out getting drunk. He was conducting a coaches’ meeting, obviously diagnostic, figuring out what went wrong and how to improve. He was projecting a future.
The arena parking lot was deserted but Jim Barnett was there. I told him about the meeting. I wondered why the Denver coaches were still there.
“Because they’re worried about their jobs,” Barnett said.
I said Karl was Coach of the Year. He had nothing to worry about.
“He’s worried,” Barnett said. “He knows how the league works.”
Barnett was dead right. He’s always dead right. The Nuggets fired Karl soon after. Horrible firing.
And now Karl has a new coaching job. Good for him. Good for the Kings. Good for the NBA. The wise old coach is back where he belongs.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.