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George Karl shares fond memories of his time coaching Sonics

George Karl coached the Sonics to four Pacific Division titles and a trip to the NBA Finals in the 1990s. (AP)
LISTEN: Former Sonics coach George Karl on his new book

George Karl has found himself in the news recently thanks to some statements in his new book “Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection.” Considering the title, it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise that George doesn’t mince words about a lot of the players he coached, with his 2005 to 2013 stint with the Denver Nuggets getting the most attention.

Karl likely never would have had the chance to still be coaching in the NBA at that point had it not been for his run with the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1990s, though, which in a lot of ways came of nowhere. Before the Sonics took a chance on him in 1992, Karl had already been fired from two NBA head coach jobs in the 1980s and was with Real Madrid in Spain.

“Bob Whitsett, for some reason, pulled me out of a hat and saved my career,” Karl told “Bob, Groz and Tom” on Thursday, speaking about the former Sonics GM.

What followed was perhaps the most consistent run of success in Sonics history, with Karl leading them to four Pacific Division titles over a five-year stretch, the league’s best record in the 1995-96 season, and a trip to the NBA Finals against Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

Karl reminisced about his time in Seattle and more in his interview on “Bob, Groz and Tom.” You can listen to a podcast of his appearance at this link. Here are some highlights:

On the best players he ever coached: “Shawn Kemp, probably. Skill-wise, athleticism, strength, power, brain. I would probably Shawn on that list. Best shooter is probably Ray Allen (who he coached in Milwaukee). Best point guard, I had three. I loved Gary Payton, I love (former Denver Nuggets guard) Andre Miller, and I also loved Nate McMillan. I think Gary gets the nod over the other two, but the other two guys I think are pretty special, even though Nate never got a reputation as a great player. He was the glue to our teams in many of those years in Seattle.”

On coaching Gary Payton: “He’s a very smart basketball guy and a great, great competitor. Probably one of the best competitors I ever coached. And, I think the big thing is, he’s a winner. I kinda had to figure him out a little bit and how I was gonna use him, and Nate McMillan and he were two really good point guards, and I think everything got really good when we realized that you could play Gary and Nate together, and that worked out and I think our efficiency when that team was on the court was one of the better analytical numbers when we played.”

On his connection to Seattle: “I’ve always loved Seattle. My daughter still lives in Olympia and I visit Seattle maybe three times a year, and you know, my memories of Seattle are so fond. Bob Whitsett, for some reason, pulled me out of a hat and saved my career. The memories are really long, and they sustained a little bit, you know. I mean, Detlef Schremph and Sam Perkins and Nate McMillan and Hersey Hawkins, and Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, all these guys when I run into them, we are in a good place and we like to celebrate those good years.”