COLUMNS

Former Nuggets coach George Karl’s passion for basketball still burns

Nov 19, 2021, 6:00 AM
George Karl...
(Photo by Jerry Schemmel)
(Photo by Jerry Schemmel)

This is not intended as criticism. This is not a commentary on whether or not George Karl should have been retained as the Denver Nuggets coach following the 2012-13 NBA season.

There seemed to be few outside the Nuggets front office, at that time, that thought Karl should be let go. But that debate is for another day.

It wasn’t a popular move at the time, but I can say this about the Nuggets: They moved ahead quickly and found themselves a terrific coach in Michael Malone, someone I have become a huge fan of.

No, the point here is to simply express what a terrific basketball man George Karl was. And still is.

Karl is a basketball junkie. He absolutely loves the game. And he can’t seem to get enough of it. Even at the age of 71. Especially at the age of 71.

Allow me an illustration. And please trust me when I say this, I’m not trying to drop names or boast about relationships. But I worked with George on an almost daily basis for five years and we became pretty good friends.

So about a month ago, I asked George if he had any interest in attending a University of Northern Colorado basketball practice, the team I’m now doing radio for, and maybe addressing the team, if he was up for that. “Let’s do it” was the text response I got. I could tell he was fired up!

We got to the practice and George was friendly and cordial to everyone, but he was also very serious. Sitting in a mid-court chair, at one point, he admonished me for standing in his way. While a Bears player was shooting a free throw!

Oops, my bad, George. He was writing things down. And the look on his face, at any given moment, showed everyone he was in his element, stepping back into his passion, doing what he loved. Basketball!

Periodically, UNC coaches would wander over and chat with George. Despite being 71 years old and with a body previously ravished by three different bouts of cancer, George stood up to talk. Every single time.

When practice was over, head coach Steve Smiley assembled his team in a small bleacher section. George pulled out his notes and began. I have never, ever seen a group of 20-somethings be at rapt attention like this group was. It was absolutely fascinating to observe. And I can tell you he wasn’t always positive about what he saw in the practice. With coaches or players.

I’ve heard Coach Karl’s talks many times over the years. Each and every time, I am blown away by the man’s knowledge of the game. I learn new things every single time. But I’m especially blown away by the man’s passion for the game. Every single time!

George Karl is the sixth-winningest coach in NBA history. Perhaps now you have a little better idea of why.

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