CHICAGO – Many who know George Karl will tell you there’s a good side, welcoming, generous, warm and funny, though George works very hard to hide it.
And so it is again these days with his second memoir, his new book, “Furious George,” that has produced some fury around the NBA. There’s no figuring out George Karl other than the obvious, a lifetime pursuit of running into the spotlight.
I’m sure there are great psychological observations and explanations about all of that and Karl, perhaps examinations of his treatment by his father.
Which is an irony and delicate area and one should not speculate too much, except that’s what Karl did in deciding growing up without a male figure was the cause of so many basketball problems for Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin.
Sigh, went Karl’s friends — friend? — as there he goes again. Karl sort of began to apologize about that racist implication in subsequent media interviews, suggesting in some respects, like Charles Barkley once did, that he was misquoted in his own autobiography.
Give Karl this. He says in the introduction to the book that he intends to use the book to be self-serving, even old scores and get the last word.
No one ever accused George Karl of having a filter on his thoughts.
How’s that Biblical quote go?
Something like, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
Of course, it’s partially what’s made Karl so popular among media members over the years and in cities where he’s coached and had the sort of success that will likely land him in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’ll deserve it based on almost 1,200 NBA wins and several impressive turnaround stories.
Though George’s ego, mouth and insecurities always were too much in the long run.
The playoff winning percentage of his teams compared to their regular-season winning percentage is among the poorest of the top coaches in NBA history. Few teams choke worse than George Karl teams.
Part of it is he’s so good and innovative in driving his teams and having them prepared during the season that they tend to over-achieve then lose their edge in a series when opponents can study them.
But in his manic desire to succeed, he’s been known to make his teams so uptight and frantic — he once suspended Martin during the playoffs — his teams tend to freeze and then melt down and collapse, often at odds with him to the end.
Players love and hate him, often at the same time.
I love the comment to Sports Illustrated the erudite Ron Adams had about Karl when Adams was on his staff in Milwaukee. Adams said in every culture the crazy guy gets respect because no one is quite sure what he’ll do next.
Which was the genesis of my own estrangement with Karl.
As a media member, it’s difficult not to love Karl, which is why his book has drawn rage and outrage around some parts of the NBA. Not of the really big headline kind because one issue with Karl’s peripatetic career was he always was on the fringes, Golden State, Milwaukee, Seattle, Cleveland, Denver, Sacramento, usually with the players almost good enough, but not quite.
There’s a who-cares element to some of his stories.
Do we really need to know more about Kenyon Martin?
Carmelo Anthony is a selfish, isolation player?
Needed a book for that?
But George, as he did in his 1990s book, “This Game’s the Best: So Why Don’t They Stop Screwing with It?” commented on things the NBA should and shouldn’t do, and lived to not only work again, but coach the USA team.
George demands to have a voice, to be relevant even if you are not interested.
He did get himself in trouble in Esquire magazine some years back suggesting Doc Rivers was a coach due to affirmative action. Karl supposedly was trying to promote his white assistant, Terry Stotts, who he said never got interviews while Doc walked into a head job.
Of course, Stotts no longer speaks to Karl, who fired him when it seemed Stotts was getting too much credit with the Bucks and Stotts wanted a raise.
Karl did some great things with the Bucks and they almost got to the 2001 Finals, which George relates in his book as an NBA conspiracy to deny little Buck land.
Anyway, I’d gone to a Bucks golf outing in Wisconsin once and George needed a drive to O’Hare afterward. It was about two hours away, and we had a marvelous time ripping everyone in the NBA along the way.
I’d gotten to know the Bucks management well, and knew how much they did in defending George and making him the highest-paid coach in the NBA. George always was insanely jealous of Phil Jackson and demanded to be paid more, sort of like Bill Russell over Wilt Chamberlain.
Mr. Karl could be uniquely generous. When he got his monster deal, he gave staff members bonuses up to five figures. He lavished holiday gifts on staff and friends, some after they left him and were working elsewhere.
But then there always was Dr. Karl.
Predictably, with George, he got bored and basically would destroy the team. Not purposely, but it’s just what he does. He ran out Ray Allen, calling him a sissy player in the media.
George’s undoing often was his public condemnation of his players. They called him Naismith. George considered it an insult because he would have made the game better.
He demanded the Bucks sign the felonious Anthony Mason for four years, bring in an over-the-hill Gary Payton. So then it all blows up, George shrugs and says he guesses he was wrong and then is paid off and is out.
The shrapnel of the franchise is all around.
To quickly find a better roster in Denver.
Where’s the loyalty?
The appreciation for ushering him through crises?
Making him the highest paid coach ever?
So I write a column detailing all that.
Hey, how could this guy always ripping everyone not understand?
I still love talking to him. The next time I see George he says, “How could you do that? I thought you were my friend.”
See, that’s George Karl.
The audacity of being a dope?
If a building collapsed next to him, he’d complain about the dust on his suit and having to get it cleaned. Not that he necessarily tries to do anyone wrong, it’s just that he’s so self-involved that he doesn’t even realize what he does or say.
Which is how he got Stotts telling him to shut up last week after Karl criticized Damian Lillard, Stotts’ best player, in some interview for a reason no one can quite figure.
How he ends up again, 20 years later as if it’s news or we care much, that Kenyon Martin was abrasive and Anthony was individualistic and he didn’t like Kendall Gill and Joe Barry Carroll was erratic.
George has been through a lot in his life with a couple of battles with cancer. Usually, when someone goes through that they develop perspective, appreciate life for each extra day and fashion a softness to their personality.
Maybe that’s also how you end up coaching six NBA teams to almost 1,200 wins, undoubtedly Karl’s NBA coaching career finally being finished.
Though with a few years left to be paid by the Sacramento Kings.
That’s why there’s no mention of the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins in this book.
You know what that means. Yes, memoir No. 3 is about two or three years away when the Kings stop paying him.
Though eventually the world will begin to look away. You can’t keep staring at the accident on the side of the road for that long.
Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules.”
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