Nuggets coach George Karl during his
playing days with the San Antonio
Spurs from 1973-78.
Photo courtesy of the Denver Nuggets
He has compiled more than 1,100 victories, made 21 playoff appearances and put together 20 winning seasons. Among coaches in any professional sport, few are more accomplished than Denver Nuggets coach George Karl.
Now in his 25th NBA season and ninth with the Nuggets, Karl ranks sixth in NBA history with 1,112 career victories (through March 1). Of the six men who have won more games, only three – Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan – have a better winning percentage than Karl (.596). Karl has also notched 78 career playoff victories, good for 10th all-time, and earned 10 Coach of the Month honors, which is tied for the fourth-most in NBA history.
Since joining the Nuggets on Jan. 27, 2005, Karl has overseen one of the most successful eras in franchise history.
In eight-plus seasons, his 404 (through March 1) wins are second-most to Doug Moe in the team’s NBA history, while his .614 winning percentage is unmatched. His streak of eight straight postseason appearances is the second only to Moe’s nine consecutive (1982-90), and Denver’s run of four straight 50-win seasons from 2007-2011 is the longest such streak in team history. The Nuggets are one of just three NBA teams (Dallas and San Antonio) to reach the postseason in each of the past nine seasons.
Despite having one of the league’s youngest rosters, Karl guided the Nuggets to a 38-28 record in 2011-12. In the process, he recorded his 20th straight non-losing season – tied with Jackson (1989-90 to 2010-11) for the longest streak in NBA history. The Nuggets led the league in scoring and assists, and nearly upset the No. 3 seed Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference playoffs before falling in seven games.
The 2010-11 season showcased Karl’s skills as a coach. Despite injuries to several key players, he guided the Nuggets to a 32-25 record at the All-Star break, and Denver won 18 of its final 25 games following a three-team 13-player trade that brought five new players to the Mile High City. Karl reached the 1,000-win mark with a victory in Toronto on Dec. 10, 2010, and he received a contract extension on March 8, 2011.
The 2009-10 season was one of highs and lows. While guiding Denver to an overall record of 53-29 and its second straight Northwest Division title, Karl was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. He made the diagnosis public two days after coaching the Western Conference at the 2010 NBA All-Star Game and continued to coach the Nuggets for three weeks while going through intense radiation and chemotherapy treatment. Karl did not return to the bench after a March 16 victory over Washington; Denver went 7-7 in its final 14 regular-season games and lost to the Utah Jazz in six games during the first round of the playoffs. On July 15, Karl received the Jimmy V Comeback Award for perseverance at the 2010 ESPYs.
In 2008-09, Karl guided the Nuggets to arguably the best season in team history. With an overall record of 54-28, Denver claimed the Northwest Division title and tied the team record for most wins in a season. As the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, the Nuggets defeated New Orleans and Dallas to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1985. Denver lost to the eventual NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
In 2007-08, Karl guided the Nuggets (50-32) to their first 50-win campaign since 1987-88. It was a five-game improvement over 2006-07, when Karl led the Nuggets to a 45-37 mark, including a franchise-record 22 road wins. The sixth-place finish in the Western Conference was also Denver’s best since finishing sixth in 1988-89.
In 2005-06, Karl steered an injury-riddled Nuggets team to 44 wins and a Northwest Division title – the club’s first division crown since 1987-88. He became the fifth coach in NBA history to lead at least three different teams to division titles (also Milwaukee and Seattle).
After being hired as Denver’s coach in January 2005, Karl engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in NBA history. The Nuggets were 17-25 and stood in 11th place in the Western Conference – six games out of the playoffs – but they went 32-8 and rallied to capture the No. 7 seed in the West. The .800 winning percentage is the best in NBA history for a coach that took over in the middle of the season (minimum 20 games). Karl was named Western Conference Coach of the Month for February and March and finished fifth in voting for NBA Coach of the Year.
Prior to joining the Nuggets, Karl served as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks (1998-03), Seattle SuperSonics (1991-98), Golden State Warriors (1986-88) and Cleveland Cavaliers (1984-86). During his coaching career, Karl’s players have made 27 All-Star appearances, earned 16 All-NBA honors, made 11 All-Defensive teams and won two Defensive Player of the Year awards.
During Karl’s tenure in Seattle, the Sonics averaged 59 wins per season and won 384 games – second only to Chicago during that span. He led the Sonics to three 60-win seasons, had just one losing month and never had a losing streak longer than three games. Only three coaches have led their teams to more 60-win seasons in NBA history: Riley (seven), Jackson (six) and K.C. Jones (four).
In five seasons in Milwaukee, Karl led the Bucks to a record of 205-173 and four playoff berths, highlighted in 2001 by the team’s first trip to the conference finals since 1986.
Karl broke into coaching as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs (then in the ABA) under Nuggets coaching icon Doug Moe. He landed his first head coaching position with the Montana Golden Nuggets of the CBA in 1980 and went on to become one of the most successful coaches in that league’s history. A three-time CBA Coach of the Year (1981, ’83 and ’91), Karl compiled a 176-66 (.727) record in five CBA seasons. He led the Albany Patroons to a league-record 50-6 mark in 1990-91, including a perfect 28-0 at home. He also coached two years in Spain with Real Madrid.
In 2001, Karl was selected as the head coach of USA Basketball’s 2002 World Championship Team that competed in the 2002 FIBA World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis.
As a player, Karl averaged 6.5 ppg and 3.0 apg over 264 games and five seasons between the ABA and NBA. He attended the University of North Carolina, where as a junior, he helped lead the Tar Heels to the 1972 NCAA Final Four, and during his sophomore season (1970-71), helped UNC to an NIT title. Although drafted by the New York Knicks in the fourth round of the 1973 NBA Draft, he signed with the San Antonio Spurs of the ABA.
As a two-time cancer survivor (Karl overcame prostate cancer in 2005), Karl is actively involved with several cancer-related organizations. He and his life partner Kim Van Deraa launched the George Karl Foundation in March 2012. The foundation’s mission is to support causes and organizations important to their family, including cancer care programs, education, animal rights and environmental initiatives. More information can be found at www.georgekarlfoundation.org.
Karl works closely with the Cancer Care Initiative at Swedish Medical Center to help provide information and assistance for cancer patients and their families. He is also involved with the American Cancer Society, the Cancer League of Colorado and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
Karl also supports Friends of Hoop, which annually hosts King Holiday Hoop Festivals – high school basketball tournaments held in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King – in Seattle and Milwaukee.
Karl, 61, has three children – daughters Kelci and Kaci and son Coby, who was on Denver’s roster at the end of the 2009-10 season. In 2007-08, Coby and George became just the third father/son duo to face each other in an NBA game and the first to do so in a postseason game as Denver took on Coby’s Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs. According to Elias Sports Bureau, there are no known instances of a player appearing in an NBA game with his father as his head coach in NBA history.