George Karl Q&A: ‘This Isn’t What I Wanted’
There are few hard, fast rules about publishing. But when your book tour doubles as a rehab tour, chances are you’ve written something explosive. George Karl’s memoir was supposed to drop on Jan. 10. But when excerpts of “Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GM’s and Poor Shot Selection” seeped out before Christmas, a full-blown cause celebre preceded publication.
Karl argued that the absence of fathers stunted the maturity of some players. He took few swipes at Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and, unaccountably, Damian Lillard. He speculated openly about the PED use in the NBA. Questionable shot selection, you might call it.
And, like a player retreating to the bench to face his hardass coach, got an earful. After enduring the Internet spanking machine, Karl is now making the rounds, explaining his intentions and trying to redirect the conversation to other parts of the book.
SI: What’s tougher: back-to-backs or this book tour?
George Karl: I’d say this tour. What’s tough is that you’re answering the same questions. It’s tedious. But I guess it’s necessary. I had no idea about the book industry. I never thought I’d be a writer. I thought it would be more a fun thing than the rodeo it’s turned out to be.
SI: You’re surprised by this, the fallout?
GK: Yeah a little bit. I can’t deny it: this isn’t what I wanted. A lot of these stories are five or ten or 15 years old and we were all different people then. To bring such intensity to it, I’m sorry this has happened in some ways.
SI: The biggest cliché you can ask an author is “What made you want to write this book?” But I’m genuinely curious: what was the thinking here? Hey, the time has come to tell my basketball stories, let ‘em all out!
GK: Well, I was working for ESPN two or three years and Curt [Sampson, Karl’s co-author] and I started having some meetings. You know I just wanted to have a conversation with the basketball fan and people who have a great love for basketball. Here are things I ran into. Here are opinions and feelings I had. Here are situations where you probably don’t know how it went down behind the scenes. Everything was a basketball evaluation. The fun of basketball is in stories and friendships. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they’re bad. I just wanted a conversation like we’re fans eating chicken wings at the bar, drinking beer and talking basketball. I enjoy conversation and have learned so much conversing.
SI: You ever read Life on the Rim?
GK: Life on the Rim is a good book.
SI: You had a scene-stealing role in that.
SI: That Albany team had lost the championship and you’re drinking beer until the sun came up.
GK: Right! Drank beer and ate wings at Thirtsy’s till four in the morning. Then went down to the river and watched the sun come up!
SI: [Reading Furious George] I saw that guy in that book. I got the sense you didn’t change a whole hell of a lot.
GK: I hope I have. I know I changed a lot.
SI: You have?
GK: In my commitment to family and through my cancers.
SI: You think you evolved?
GK: Sure. I had to. I think my basketball foundation is the same but to last for 30 years you have to evolve. Because the players evolve, the business evolves, the media’s attention to the NBA has evolved. So many things are different from 1990. If you’re not learning, I don’t know if you survive.
SI: Are there parts of the book you are surprised didn’t get more attention, that didn’t pop more?
GK: I’m not keeping score. I think a lot of the stuff that came out in December was the excerpt factor. I think if you read the whole book, there are many, many pages of good stories and fun stories and happy stories positive stories and—
SI: But you had to know how this game works—
GK: Again, it’s the first time I’ve gone through this process.
SI: What’s one thing you wish people had told you before you started this?
GK: Probably to be more careful. For me, I was thinking about a conversation with the fan. The filter that coaches have to have on when they're coaching, I probably took that off a little too much.
SI: Five best players you ever coached?
GK: Bird, Magic, LeBron, Michael, Stockton.
GK: Oh, best five I had ever coached, to play for me? I’d say Gary [Payton], Melo [Anthony], Shawn [Kemp], Ray [Allen] and…who am I missing? Detlef Schrempf probably. Who did I leave out?
SI: Sam Cassell.
GK: Sam was one of my favorites.
SI: What’s the most western Pennsylvania thing about you?
GK: Probably blue collar. Work is not a problem. I probably destroyed my health and my first family because of it.
SI: You stop the book before Sacramento. If you’re writing that next chapter how does that go?
GK: Experience takes time to evolve. I made a lot of mistakes. It didn’t work. History will say why it didn’t work but I don’t think it’s time to predict what history will say.
SI: But the sequel will have the Boogie stories, the front office stories, the Nancy Lieberman stories?
GK: [laughs] Maybe I’ll call you up and you can write it.
SI: You’re in New York for a book tour on a week when Carmelo Anthony gets a technical. Phil Jackson is being lampooned again and Derrick Rose goes MIA. You’ll agree there’s some irony in that, no?
GK: I would say so, yeah. If you’re a good writer you could probably play that up for a couple of pages.