DENVER – It was a bad breakup in so many ways. There was hurtful talk about his drinking, honest talk about his emotions while growing into the job, and wonder about whether a friend, Don Nelson, did him in as Warriors coach to have the job for himself.
That was after 1987-88. Or last week, the way George Karl can so easily recall the conflict of two often-turbulent seasons in Golden State set against the view today that his time in Oakland helped him develop into one of the coaching superstars of the game.
It was difficult personally … and it was good for him. And now it is right in front of him. Karl’s current team, the Nuggets, are playing one of his former teams, the Warriors, in the first round of the playoffs that resume with Game 2 on Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center (10:30 ET, TNT), and so it was inevitable that part of his past would come up.
Monday, after the Nuggets practiced with a 1-0 series lead, was the day. One more game and he would be back in Oracle Arena, the renovated former Oakland Coliseum he once called home, for the playoffs.
“The first memory that comes to mind,” Karl said, “is coming from down 0-2 in my first year there to win a five-game series, which at that time was the second team ever to do it. I now have the honor of doing it and having it done to me. I think I’m the only one that has that other. Another historical stuff. The 0-2 game, I don’t know if you remember, but there was a fight after the game between Karl Malone and Greg Ballard. We lost the game and a fight breaks out. I ran on the court and a fan hits me from behind. I go running after the fan and Chris Mullin and Purvis Short just run by me and kick the (heck) out of him, take care of the fan for me. Here you go down 0-2, you walk into the locker room, maybe the hardest speech in basketball, and the speech is made for you because you just had this basic altercation. We come back and win all three games.
“I’m sure I was more – I don’t know – fiery or confrontational. Demanding. I had an insecure ego, probably. I think the thing that I feel better about myself now is my ego was out of control probably at that time. I was a young guy that a lot of people thought could coach, but I didn’t know maybe how to handle the responsibility of coaching. The next year, we made the Joe Barry Carroll trade and Mully goes into rehab and Larry Smith pops his hamstring. That’s what happens the first month of the season. I had one of those teams that could play anybody until about 10 minutes to go, eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and then no matter who we were playing we would lose the game. That’s a very frustrating thing to go through. When you’re a young coach, you think it’s you. Now I see teams well-coached, doing their job. The good teams turn up the defense, put the foot on the pedal and they always catch and usually sometimes go by you by five or six or 10. That was a tough year. I think ownership at that time wanted Nellie to coach. I was in a position where they felt the team needed a change and my ego might have pissed off a few people along the way.” (more…)