George Karl - Back and Forth
He’s established himself as one of the NBA’s premier coaches and currently keeps the Denver nuggets on their toes. He’s battled cancer along side his son and maintained a positive outlook on his place in the world and in the dynamics of his family, the most cherished unit in his life. He’s traveled the globe as a basketball ambassador, spreading joy and appreciation for the game that’s made him wealthy, wordly and wise. And though George Karl’s entire life centers on sports, it is his business savy and versitility that may leave the greatest impression on the world around him. With regards to Columbus, Ohio, this notion may not be truer. He’s invested in nearly a dozen local businesses ranging from golf greens to concert venues to Irish pubs. Read this month’s exclusive interview with the big man himself. You’ll be surprised at how connected this cat really is in your own backyard.
Being a philosophy major in college, how have you used that knowledge in what you do today?
A lot of people have called me a thinker and I enjoy thinking about all sorts of things. I like delving into a lot of topics from religion to politics to basketball to international affairs. In basketball, the head coach has to be able to wear a lot of different hats. They have to be able to communicate to the front office, to lawyers and agents and players from many different diverse circumstances from the inner city to Europe. I think that the more diverse in your thoughts you are the more ability you have to form relationships and/or communicate with people from different areas and different sociological backgrounds.
Plato or Aristotle?
Aristotle. I’m softer.
Nietzche or Socrates?
I like Nietzche, but if I had to read every day, I would take Socrates.
Nietzche is too harsh and rough to read every day.
Vince Vaughn or Will Ferrell?
Will Ferrell, no question.
If you could sum up your philosophy of life in one sentence, what would it be?
There is a guy that just made millions of dollars on t-shirts that say, “Life is Good.” I really like the philosophy that life is good. Our goal on life is to make it better. I’m a very straightforward guy. I think you always have the ability to make life better.
What 3 words would use to describe yourself?
Eccentric, because I am different, but I’m different because I like looking at things differently. Committed and passionate too.
Why is Columbus so special to you? Besides the weather….
Columbus had just fallen in my way. I started befriending Brett Adams and a few people when I was coaching in the CBA a long time ago. It was kind of early in my career—be it an escape from basketball to have some fun playing golf—and I met more and more people every time I came to Columbus and got involved in some businesses. I’ve just really enjoyed it. I grew up in Pittsburg and it is a lot different. Columbus has a lot of soulfulness similar Pittsburg, but it is fresher and newer. It has been my escape to be with friends and enjoy golf and get away from basketball in the summer time.
Describe a perfect day in Columbus when you come to town.
A fall day where the colors change, crisp but sunny, an Ohio State football game after 18 holes of golf…
Who has a better golf game, you Bret Adams or Michael Redd?
Neither one of them can beat me. I hear Michael is vastly improved. I haven’t played with him in a couple of years.
What is your favorite book?
The new Friedman book- Hot, Flat and Crowded. The Art of War as well, though I don’t know if it’s my favorite book, but the one I read the most and it makes a lot of sense.
What is the best thing about being a coach?
The best thing is you have a large family of assistant coaches, trainers, players and a group of people really close to each other. You have problems and anxieties and play the game you love. And you get to compete, which I think is healthy. And for some crazy reason we get paid to do it.
How has you and your son having cancer defined your relationship?
I think all of us who have had the privilege of living through cancer I think it’s given us a more honest value for life. We value our family more. I think he and I have gotten stronger, but mellower towards life.
Oatmeal and a banana or steak and eggs?
Steak and eggs.
As far as basketball goes, what is the deal with Isaiah Thomas?
I don’t think we are two people that are going to like one another. I don’t have any anger or hatred for him; he has just done things that have put him on the list that I would not like to have any interaction with.
What moment are you most proud of in your coaching career?
Winning game 7 in Seattle that sent us to the NBA finals.
As a father, what is the most important piece of advice you can give your children when they are parents?
My dad raised me on two words: respect and responsibility. Also positive energy vs. negative energy. I’m a big believer that positive attitude on a daily basis can conquer anything.
What is your favorite nighttime city?
New York City.
Tell us about your love of motorcycles.
I fell in love with motorcycles when I was coaching in Great Falls, Montana and didn’t have enough money to own two cars, so I owned a Honda 650 and I drove it around Great Fall, Montana in the middle of winter! And then my ex-wife got me a Harley and I got into that for a while, but I’m getting too old for it now. It’s too dangerous for me right now. I want to try to live till 100. My dad made it to 95, so I’m hoping I can make it to 100.
Where does the NBA stand in terms of current social care and concern?
In the NBA today, 80% of our citizens are great and committed professionals. The other 15-20% get too much attention. I think the media is attracted to the dysfunction. Character and class come in a lot of different packages. People who do not have a tremendous IQ or do not have a lot of money and haven’t graduated from college or high school, they can still have a great amount of class. I think that is a great lesson that the game of basketball has taught me. It’s not about where you come from; it is about what you learn from where you come from.
If you were President, what would be your first law?
I would ban all smoking, and I would budget a plan to find a cure for cancer in 10 years.
How do you challenge young men who make millions of dollars to be the kind of men that kids can look up to?
In the NBA, we are not as mentor oriented as the college coaches are. But I think the challenge that we have in the NBA is that we have many circumstances that you can learn and teach by. From losing, to difficulties of 82 games and to persevere through the bad times, to how we lose, to staying disciplined on the off days… I talk all the time about thanking the game and giving something back to it. It is fantasyland that we get paid millions of dollars to play basketball.
What about a veteran who thinks he’s seen it all?
Our philosophy is simple—everyone likes to get better and learn about the game. We challenge our guys to get better a little every day. We stay away from talking down to them. We are a part of them and they are a part of us. Our job is to teach and direct and coach.
How do you give back to the world?
For many years, I do as many events that I can for kids. And now cancer has been high on my priority list, so now anything that has to do with cancer I try to help out with.
Carmello Anthony: team player or playmaker?
He is an individual player playing a team game. He has his moments when he is searching for that understanding. The Olympic experience is going to help him.
Is Lebron as much of a complete player as Jordan?
No, not yet.
Does he have the same size heart?
Not yet. 99.9% of players don’t have that kind of heart.
Chianti or Cabernet?
Why have the Americans been having trouble in International basketball competitions?
There is a pride around the world to beat us! Winning the world championship or European championships for your country is more valuable. This year was the first time I had actually heard Team USA players say that winning the gold medal was more of a win than an NBA championship.
If you could change one thing in your past, what would it be and why?
I would have changed the knowledge and ability to handle being a good husband and father to my first family and not be dominated by the game of basketball, where I probably cheated them out of many good nights and many good days. The knowledge of relationships that I learned later in life I wish I would have learned earlier.
What defines George Karl today?
A daily energy to get better and be a strong influence in my family. To do things the right way.
How do you want to be remembered?
I would say as a loving father and ambassador to the game of basketball.
We understand you are a scratch golfer. If so, how long did it take to get there?
I’ve never been a scratch golfer. I’ve been an 80-90 golfer my whole life. I would like to get low 80 once again. I haven’t been there since I had hip surgery.
How do you know John Lombardo?
He was my team doctor when I was the Cleveland Cavs coach.
Is Columbus, Ohio a place you could spend part of your retirement?
Yeah, there will be moments and even months of times hanging out at Tartin Fields trying to figure out how to play golf better.
Tell me about your foundation Friends of Hoop.
Basically to give back to the game of basketball through AAU coaching and referee clinics, summer leagues, funding scholarships… We run the King Holiday Hoop Fest in Seattle and Milwaukee that raises money and celebrates the game of high school basketball.
I was told by a reliable source (your lawyer) that you donate more of your after-tax income to charity than virtually every celebrity in the country.
I don’t know about that. I know my foundation doesn’t have a lot of sponsors. The sponsorship is usually my checkbook. And that’s fine, because the relationships and stories and experiences are well worth the donation I give.
What is your favorite central Ohio course other than Tartan now?
The Golf Club.
What are your long-term plans with Tartan, and what do you think of the membership 9 months into your ownership?
I think the membership is strong. I would like them to become a part of the club and more involved with the club. My long-term goal is for it to be a great course and for it to develop and mature. I’m the majority owner.
Explain your connection to each:
- Golf Club of Dublin:
Another investment that came after Tartan. I’m a small owner maybe 10%.
- Promowest Pavilion:
That was Bret Adams. Met the guy that runs it and he needed loan money.
- Columbus Hoop:
Long time ago I had the idea of having a gym with lots of courts to put on leagues and camps. I thought it would be a good idea to give back to the game of basketball.
- Corazon Club & Spa:
A financial experiment that I still think will work along the way in the end.
- Brazenhead on Fifth Avenue:
Always a fun place to go to and have some beers and hang out, so I thought it would be cool to be a small percentage owner in it.
- AD Farrow Harley Dealerships:
I liked the history and tradition of Harley Davidson having lived in Milwaukee. We have been very successful in it. It has been a very fun investment. I’m hoping the economy will help the Harley Davidson bounce back.
Olentangy Commons Apartments:
We loaned them money and every month I get 10% interests. It’s one of the better investments that I’ve made.
- Toledo Hoop:
Kind of a political thing. The mayor saw Columbus Hoop and wanted something like that in Toledo. It has turned into a nightmare due to some problems they’ve had with landfill problems. I’m an environmentalist and don’t think we should be destroying the land.