Nuggets coach George Karl has been diagnosed with neck and throat cancer and likely will miss some games and practices while undergoing a rigorous six-week treatment program of radiation and chemotherapy.
His voice breaking at times, Karl revealed the diagnosis Tuesday night with his doctor, Jacques Saari, at his side and surrounded by his team and members of the Nuggets organization.
"My desire is to do whatever I can to stay with my team throughout the treatment that I have to go through," Karl said. "Basically, my belief is this is a championship team and I want to do anything and everything I can to help them continue in their quest that we all want." Karl, a survivor of prostate cancer, said he expects to miss at least a couple of upcoming games, at Golden State on Feb. 25 and at Minnesota on March 10. He said assistant Adrian Dantley would lead the team when he’s absent.
Karl informed his players that he was battling cancer when the team convened earlier Tuesday for its first practice since returning from the All-Star break.
"A situation like that, it’s real life," guard Chauncey Billups said. "You take the basketball out of it. You take work out of it. None of us can really be selfish and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to miss George if he doesn’t coach some of the games.’ We’ve got to take all that out of it. Your heart just goes out to him and his family. All we can really do is pray for him."
Karl has coached Denver to the playoffs each of the last five seasons. His 260 wins since joining the Nuggets in January 2005 are the second most in team history.
The Nuggets are 35-18 this season and leading the Northwest Division.
Saari said he found a large lump on Karl’s neck during a routine examination on Dec. 30. Karl said he had been aware of the lump for some time but had assumed it was just fatty tissue. An MRI and a needle biopsy were performed and results confirmed the presence of a tumor approximately 2 inches in diameter, said Saari, adding he informed Karl of the diagnosis at the end of January.
Karl, who recently signed a contract extension with the Nuggets and coached the Western Conference All-Star team last Sunday, was successfully treated for prostate cancer in 2005. His son, Coby, also is a cancer survivor.
"I think the major desire for me is to kick this cancer’s butt," Karl said. "My hope and I think the doctors are very hopeful and confident that it is a curable and treatable disease. While my family has battled cancer, I’m somewhat of an amateur but it is something that has to be treated immediately.
"I think I’m very blessed to have a great family and an organization that has supported me through all this, and great friends and a great team. I will need all of them in different ways. I don’t think I’m a guy that needs sympathy but I do need support."
While treatable, Saari, said Karl faced a taxing treatment regimen.
He said the chemo therapy was intended to make the cancerous cells in Karl’s body more susceptible to the effects of radiation.
Then, he said, "The idea is to really hit it hard with radiation therapy."
But the radiation, to be administered continuously for five days a week for the next six weeks, will take a physical toll on Karl, especially during the latter portion of treatment, Saari said.
"Coach is going to have a tough time," Saari said. "The first three to four weeks, I think he is going to do very well. The last 2 1/2 to three weeks of the therapy will be difficult."
Karl said he’s still coming to grips with this second bout with cancer.
"Someone asked me the question, Have I come to terms with this one," he said. "I don’t think I have.
"I don’t care if it’s a curable one or uncurable. There’s no guaranteed contracts in this gig. Doctors are very confident, but mutations of cells come in different forms. We’ll just give it the best shot that we have."