- Rick Bowmer/AP; Business Insider
George Karl’s new book, “Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection,” doesn’t hold back.
The book from the 64-year-old former coach is a tell-all memoir spanning his North Carolina roots, with him learning under legendary basketball coach Dean Smith, to his wild and successful coaching career, where he coached six teams and amassed 1,175 wins, the sixth-most all-time.
The book also documents his passion for basketball and his willingness to mix it up with players and executives along the way.
The first excerpts were met with controversy. In one section, Karl accuses Carmelo Anthony of a selfish style of play and criticizes J.R. Smith for his shot selection while also suggesting that Anthony and former Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin struggled with responsibility because they grew up in fatherless households.
Other sections detail his struggles with former Seattle Supersonics guard Gary Payton, his falling-out with Ray Allen with the Milwaukee Bucks, and his power struggles with owners and GMs during his other stops.
While promoting the book, Karl addressed the controversies, particularly over his comments about Anthony and Martin’s childhoods, and apologized for the wording. But regarding the other controversial and blunt assessments of players and other characters in the NBA, Karl also made it clear he wanted to honestly document his experiences and what really happens in the NBA.
Karl spoke with Business Insider for a phone interview on “Furious George,” his coaching experiences, and today’s NBA.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Scott Davis: What was your favorite part of the book to write or what was the section you were most passionate about writing?
George Karl: My whole thing is to kinda just to tell stories about what made me who I am and tell stories about things that happened that people probably had a little bit of an insight into, but maybe give them a little bit behind the scenes. And just a conversation you’d have in a sports bar, eating wings and drinking beer. You know, the conversation gets pretty heated and tense about what team was better or what happened in this game. It comes in different packages.
But I think the two things that I probably relish in my career is my North Carolina roots, and the other thing would be the year with the Seattle Supersonics when we went to the Finals and got Michael [Jordan] and gave Michael a good battle for six games.
Davis: What’s one thing the average fan doesn’t know about coaching?
Karl: I think the fan doesn’t understand that coaching is a marathon in the NBA. Eighty-two games is ridiculously a lot of games played in a very short period of time. And the frustrations, even when you’re successful and win a lot of games, you still have daily frustrations. Coaching is, when you lose, you gotta plug some holes and fix some things. When you win, you gotta manage your team’s attitude and ego and cockiness. You wanna build confidence, you wanna build a trust and belief in each other, but you don’t want them to think they’re getting away with something. There’s always a moment of managing basketball psyche a little bit, almost every day.
Davis: What do you think about the 82-game schedule? Should it be reduced or spread out more to avoid back-to-backs?
Karl: I think the perfect world is yes, but I don’t think you’re gonna see a change. Just because 82 games produces revenue on a nightly basis, and I don’t think the players wanna take a pay cut, and I don’t think the owners wanna lose money.
But I think Adam Silver’s done a good job of trying to spread those four-games-in-five-nights situations. I think they’re trying actually to abolish them and not let them happen anymore, and then the back-to-backs, you gotta have some of them, try to make them as small of a number as possible.
Davis: When you look back on your career, are there any situations you wish you could have handled differently or players you could have coached differently?
- Jonathan Daniel/Getty
Karl: We went to the conference finals in Milwaukee, and then we signed Anthony Mason the next year. And we thought that was the piece that was gonna make us happen and maybe get to the Finals and take a step forward in the process we were going through. And we made a step backwards. I don’t know if it was my choice or my coaching, but for some reason, the Anthony Mason trade did not make us what we thought we were gonna be. And we had a disappointing season because of it. And because of that I think my relationship with Ray Allen deteriorated a little bit also.
Davis: In the book you discuss how your work ethic and the NBA life was rough on your family. Is there anything you’d tell incoming coaches about the work-life balance or anything you would change?
Karl: I think cancer taught me that balancing stress, learning how to manage your stress, balancing your schedule to where you’re not just a totally on, intense coach the whole time, those are all things that were great to write in the book and talk about. But a 38-, 39-year-old young man who has all this energy, when he gets that job, he’s gonna do it probably the way he wants to do it or the way he’s been mentored.
But I think you see more and more coaches in the NBA that have balance. I know [Gregg Popovich] is a very low-key kind of a balanced guy, even though he’s very intense in the game. They don’t practice a lot, and because of that I think they play well. I heard that Brad Stevens up in Boston is a very short practice guy. Preparation and video and statistics have just made it so intense. You have so much information that you gotta decipher what you wanna know, how you wanna know it, and what else you’re also gonna take to the players.
Davis: In the book and since you’ve spoken at length about Carmelo Anthony and how he was one of the most talented players you worked with but you wish he would have realized all of his skills. Looking back, is there something you could have done differently to bring out all of his skills, or was that on him?
- Brian Bahr/Getty
Karl: You always can do more or you can do something different, but the frustration with Melo was we thought he could be a great rebounder, great defender, we thought he could be a playmaking forward. And we only really fine-tuned him into scoring points for us, we never got him to buy into a complete game. And sometimes that might be who you have on your team, too.
My thing with Melo is, even with a great player who won a lot of games for the Denver Nuggets and me as my coaching career, as a coach you’re always trying to figure out how you can make your team and make each player on the team a little bit better. And I think that’s where Melo was an All-Star, he was a great player, won a lot of games, made a lot of big shots, but we as coaches still wanted to push him if we could.
Davis: There’s been a lot of talk about Anthony’s future with the Knicks, and he even said he needs to talk to Phil Jackson about that future. How do you go about having such a conversation?
Karl: I don’t know if that’s the truth. I think most of the time you go into the season, you have a plan. You don’t wanna change from that plan in the middle of the year. I’m pretty sure that’s what the Knicks wanna do. They wanna play this year out, see how their team evolves, hopefully get into a situation where they play important games in March and April for the playoffs and see if they get lucky to get into the playoffs.
I know they are on a bad stretch right now, but a seven-game winning streak can follow a bad stretch, and once that happens you get back into feeling positive about the game of basketball.
Most organizations have patience, most organizations feel that it should be an 82-game journey, not a 41-game journey.
Davis: Looking around the league, is there any player or team you look at and think you’d like to work with?
Karl: I can’t pronounce his name – the guy in Milwaukee, the Greek Freak! He’s really, really coming into his own.
And I’ll be honest with you, the guy that I think has excited me that I didn’t know had it in him as he’s doing it now is James Harden. James Harden, his playmaking, I did not see that. I mean, I thought he was a good passer, but I didn’t see a guy that should have the ball in his hands all the time because he makes great decisions.
Davis: There’s a lot of talk about whether Russell Westbrook can keep up his current pace and energy level through the rest of the season. Do you think he will?
Karl: I would say yes. Knowing that energy bunny, I mean, that guy has more energy than any player I think I’ve ever seen play in the NBA. I mean, he is fired up every night he plays. Every coach, we see his flaws at times, but I just love the intensity he brings to the game.
Davis: Does Westbrook remind you of anyone you ever coached?
Karl: Offensive player like that, not really. I never had a guy who could get to the rim like that. Ray Allen was a great scorer, Allen Iverson was a great scorer, but Russell Westbrook, he just attacks the defense, and he does it with passion. Every ball he gets, he’s coming at you. It’s pretty impressive.
Karl: What do you think about tanking? Some of your Nuggets teams were that dreaded, middle-of-the-pack-type team without a superstar. Some people feel it’s better to tank and draft a star than to be in the middle of the road.
Davis: I don’t know how to answer that. As a coach, you don’t like tanking. We don’t wanna be told to play in a way that the team won’t have a chance to win and play guys that you know probably don’t have a chance to win just because you wanna get lucky in the draft. And the draft is not a sure thing. I think sometimes we expect to get saved by the draft. I don’t think that happens very often. Now, it happens once in a while, you know, a Westbrook, a Durant, a LeBron, but there have been a lot of failures in the top 10 as much as there have been successes.
Davis: If you don’t coach again, are there any other NBA or basketball-related jobs you would want to pursue?
Karl: I just wanna stay engaged in basketball. I don’t know where that’s gonna be. I don’t know if that’s gonna be in the NBA or as an assistant coach or an AAU coach or whatever. I’m interested in getting in the gym and loving the game and giving back to the great game that’s given me a fantastic life.
Davis: If you couldn’t be involved in basketball, what kind of job would you pursue?
Karl: Oh man. I’d probably try to be the best grandpa in the world probably for a year.