George Karl: Madrid, the death of Fernando Martín and the Finals against Jordan

The legendary coach, now without a team, spent 27 seasons in the NBA and two in Madrid. In addition, he was the USA coach.


It is not easy to condense the life of George Karl. There will always be parts of his long sports career that will remain in limbo because we are not talking about a simple basketball coach, but about one of the great NBA coaches of all time. Let's go over his résumé at a glance: 27 seasons in charge of six League franchises (Cleveland, Golden State, Seattle, Milwaukee, Denver and Sacramento), nearly 1,999 managed games and 1,175 regular-season wins. Figures that make him the sixth coach in matches and in all-time wins. Continue? He has only missed the playoffs on five occasions (two of them when he was fired mid-year), he was coach of the year in 2013 with Denver Nuggets and was very close to the ring with Seattle SuperSonics: it was in 1996 against Michael's Chicago Bulls. Jordan and from 72-10. Not bad at all.

However, what most represents Karl is the word fighter. Because he has overcome cancer three times. In 2005 he was diagnosed with a prostate and in 2007 with a throat, a problem that returned in 2016. Not only did he experience the disease raw, but also through his son. Coby surpassed one in the thyroid gland in 2007. Excellent tripler, played with two of the best players of all time, Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) and LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers). And, in between, in the ACB with Joventut and Granada.

Spain was not unknown to him. As early as 1989, Coby was running around the Palacio de Deportes at age 6 when his father changed the United States for the capital. George Karl came to Real Madrid at the hands of Ramón Mendoza. He lived two seasons in two different stages (1989-90 and 1991-92). The first of them with a great sentimental load: on December 3, 1989, the white family suffered one of its greatest losses, that of Fernando Martín, in a traffic accident.

The death of Fernando Martín

“It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. Every detail is frozen in my mind, including the rain that did not stop falling on the day of the funeral, "recalls the coach in his book Furious George. Two days after the death of the first Spaniard to play in the NBA, Madrid had to play against PAOK from Thessaloniki in the Recopa at the Palacio: “There were many moments of goose bumps. Fernando's shirt, white and blue with the number 10, spread out on our bench and the opponent's players left roses on it. Before the game, our players spontaneously ran through the corridors to give a collective hug to Fernando's mother in the box ", he recalls.

The game was incredible, indelible. At halftime, the Whites lost 19 points, but after the categorical words of Antonio, Fernando's brother, in the locker room ("You are a lot of whores. Fernando would not like this"), they came back and took the victory. “A national hero. Fernando was 27 years old in 1989, the year I trained him, he was a handsome boy with dark hair. The equivalent in the United States at that time would have been Magic, Bird or Michael Jordan. Perhaps James Dean is closer to the impact he had, "he says.

Despite his short period, he keeps good and funny moments from his time in Spain. “With the help of my bilingual assistants I was able to teach and train. I showed that I was bad at picking up a new language. My Spanish was limited to tell me, thank you, and another beer, please. I caused some laughs among the waiters in a restaurant when I asked for cock when I really wanted chicken. And I got into trouble for mistaking shit for Miera, which is a river and a city in Spain. My best moment came after a defeat, when I told the press that we play as women, "she continues in her book.

Karl brought to Spanish basketball little pills of the American style, like the detailed 'scouting' of the rival. “Before each game, he gave us a bunch of notes on the next opponent. Written down to the smallest detail. And although there was not much video, he did take us to the blackboard and ask us, as in school ”, stated Quique Villalobos in the report 'George Karl, a Yankee in the court of Real Madrid' by Antonio Rodríguez. The text continues with another of the great anecdotes of his time in the capital: when he visited the Sports City for the first time, he asked where the video room was. This did not exist. It was neither there nor was it expected and the club was successful, using some works in the enclosure to ensure that they were preparing the room.The Finals against Jordan

Born in Penn Hills (Pennsylvania), Karl began his idyll with basketball on the inside of the court, not on his side. Forged at the prestigious University of North Carolina, he was drafted in the fourth round by the New York Knicks in 1973, however his career took another path: he left the NBA without making his debut to join the ABA with the San Antonio Spurs. In Texas it began and in Texas it ended. In just four years he stopped bouncing the ball to send from the bench. He started as an assistant in the silver spur franchise to continue a slow, but inexorable climb to the top.

First with Montana Golden Nuggets at the CBA, a competition that as Roland Lazenby points out in his biography of Michael Jordan was equivalent to Phil Jackson for "30 years of training." Karl spent three in Montana and won two titles as coach of the year, which opened the doors to the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then came the Golden State Warriors. In both cases, he was fired midway through his second season.

His short leap to the elite led him back to the CBA, with the Albany Patroons (where Phil Jackson himself trained before Chicago), and to the aforementioned Real Madrid, which he left forever in January 1992 to take over Seattle SuperSonics . In his six seasons in Washington State, he never left the playoffs and reached the finals alongside Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp against the Bulls (2-4 for Illinois), with an inspiring anecdote for Michael Jordan included.

“He passed me (during dinner) without saying hello and I said, 'Really, is this going to be your tactic?' That's bullshit. We went to Carolina. We meet Dean Smith, see him during the summer, and play golf. Are you going to do this? OK, it's OK. That is all I needed. It became personal, ”says Her Majesty of the Air in the acclaimed Netflix series 'The Last Dance'.

Truth or lie, Karl was a genius coach and given to rudeness. Without mincing words, multiple NBA stars have gone through their particular hell with him. "I've never been very good at hiding my frustrations or keeping my opinions," he says in his book. Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and JR Smith, whom he coached at the Denver Nuggets (2005-13), for example, he accused of being immature for having grown up without a father figure. And in Sacramento Kings (2015-16), his last stint in the NBA so far, he collided with the always difficult DeMarcus Cousins.

The Indianapolis disaster

Between Colorado and California, the Milwaukee Bucks (1998-2003) and their controversies with Sam Cassell, Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson, as well as one of their worst moments on the bench: the 2002 Indianapolis World Cup. As a coach, United United suffered one of its greatest insults ever, finishing in sixth place with a team consisting of Baron Davis, Andre Miller, Reggie Miller, Paul Pierce and Ben Wallace.

It is true that there were important casualties such as that of young people like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, who did not respond to his call, or like that of the injured Shaquille O'Neal, Ray Allen and Jason Kidd. But that did not matter to a nation proud of its basketball, accustomed to causing panic in international tournaments and that lived indignantly, in its own country, the three painful defeats of its team: against Argentina in the second phase, against Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals and against Spain in the fight for fifth place. The coach's tongue, once again, leapt fast after falling in front of the National Team, claiming that the money and greed of the NBA had a detrimental effect on the competitive nature of American players.

Words that haunted him during his final days in Milwaukee as well as his suggestion that the NBA practiced affirmative action against former black players so that they would become head coaches despite their little prior experience. Doc Rivers, Isiah Thomas and Bill Cartwright, on the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls at that time, respectively, were his targets.

Currently, Karl is without a team, but very active on social networks, where he has been very indignant with the assault on the Capitol by the followers of former President Donald Trump. In addition, he hosts the Truth + Basketball podcast and fervently supports the return of the NBA to Seattle, the house where he lived his best days as a basketball coach.

Sources for the elaboration of this article: El País, Gigantes, El Confidencial and ACB.

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