Former Sonics HC George Karl says he’d love to coach another Seattle team
Aside from when the Seattle Supersonics appeared in back to back NBA finals in the late 1970s, the Sonics were at their best in the ’90s under the direction of head coach George Karl.
Karl won 1,175 regular season games as a head coach in the NBA and led the Sonics from 1991 to 1998 and appeared in the every one of those seasons, making the finals in the 1995-1996 season.
He joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore to talk about what he’s been up to since he last coached an NBA game in 2016, as well as the recent death of NBA star Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others.
Karl first heard the reports from people he knows in the NBA who are “higher ups.”
“It numbed me,” Karl said of first learning of Bryant’s passing.
Roughly an hour later, he learned that Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, was also on the helicopter.
“Then I got the text from somebody that his daughter was there and that’s what killed me,” Karl said. “It just knocked me (down).”
With Bryant’s death, like many others, Karl used it as a time to reflect. Being an NBA head coach nearly every year from 1984 to 2016, Karl has seen many of the game’s greats.
“I was very fortunate,” Karl said of his coaching career. “I got to coach against seven or eight of the top-10 players ever to play in the NBA.”
Those players include Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Jordon, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Coaching for as long as he did, and being so successful, Karl got to create personal relationships with the league’s elite.
“My era of coaching, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been blessed by the opportunity to not only coach against these guys, but I know a lot of these guys personally,” he said.
Nowadays, Karl lives in Denver, where he coached the Nuggets from 2004 to 2013. He battled cancer in 2010 and uses that as an opportunity to do public speaking on the subject. He also speaks about leadership and teamwork, and stays in close contact with former players and coaches of his who are NBA coaches, such as Indiana Pacers head coach Nate McMillian, who played and coached for the Sonics.
Karl, now 68, feels very healthy.
“I’m the skinniest I’ve been in probably 40 years,” he said. “I work out every day I’m in Denver. I’m learning to take care of my body a lot better.”
Though he hasn’t coached since 2016, Karl doesn’t consider himself to be retired, especially as he feels he could return to coaching in the near future.
“I’m not sure I want to be called ‘retired’ because I like doing things, I like being involved,” Karl said. “I don’t know if there’s something in the NBA for me someday, but I’d have interest. I still have the interest to coach again someday, but right now I have a 15-year-old daughter and I think I’m going to give her the next two-and-a-half years of my life and then … if someone in Europe or someone in Australia or somewhere else (approaches me about coaching), I might get out there and try it again.”
Jim Moore, who covered the Sonics for a number of years, floated the idea of coaching a Seattle NBA team if the city were to be given either an expansion franchise or a relocated team. Karl was well on board.
“Oh, I’d love that,” Karl said. “That’d be the greatest celebration. You couldn’t get me a better Christmas present than that.”
The Sonics left Seattle in 2008, becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder. That Seattle still doesn’t have an NBA team doesn’t sit well with Karl.
“I don’t get angry very much anymore, but I still get angry (with) why the hell isn’t there a basketball team in Seattle, Washington,” he said. “It just makes no sense. And I don’t know why 30 owners and a league office can even look at themselves and say this is the way it works out and we shouldn’t change it. I just hope that someday soon there will be basketball back in Seattle … I think the league has to bring a team back to Seattle someday soon.”
Those Seattle teams Karl coached were physical and at times dominant, with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp leading the charge. Those were among the best years of Karl’s life and coaching career.
“Seattle was different. We were a dominating team trying to figure out how to beat Michael Jordan (in the NBA Finals),” he said. “We maybe got messed up because of some early (playoff) exits because of our immaturity. I got to the finals one time and the conference finals another time. But those teams, we were thinking about winning every day of the season. It was about winning it. I’ve never had a team that talented since then.”
Listen to Karl’s conversation with Bob, Dave and Moore at this link or in the player below.