With a national audience listening, the Nuggets coach and two-time cancer survivor went “off the cuff” and delivered a heartfelt speech while accepting the Jimmy V Comeback Award for perseverance at the 2010 ESPY Awards on Wednesday. The Jimmy V award is named for Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina State basketball coach who died of bone cancer in 1992.
“I’ve sat in treatment rooms for about 40 days and the perseverance of some of the cancer patients that I’ve had the honor to befriend is incredible,” Karl said in his speech. “I was not the strongest man in that room on many a days. I was not the toughest and most perseverant man in that room on many a days. There are many cancer survivors and cancer patients who are intensely committed to defeating this nasty disease – as I think I am.”
Karl, whose son Coby is also a cancer survivor, received another round of applause when he called for more support in the fight against cancer.
“Sometimes I don’t think America is aware of cancer as much as they should be,” Karl told the audience. “Right now, there is great teamwork amongst our country to conquer this disease, but we need a national program to cure cancer, to defeat this disease.”
Karl, recovering from throat and neck cancer, also challenged the national government to match all charitable contributions made to cancer research groups such as the Jimmy V Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “That should be the beginning,” Karl said. “Jimmy V, with his spirit with his soulfulness and his passion, gave us a challenge. Let’s continue it by somewhere hopefully in our lifetime finding cures for cancer, not only treatments.” In an interview with Nuggets.com, Karl said he received plenty of positive feedback after his speech, including an e-mail from Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who played for Karl in Milwaukee and for Valvano at N.C. State. “I just told the world what should be done,” Karl said. “I care about people.”
Anyone who knows Karl wasn’t surprised that he would make the most of his opportunity to inform people about the importance of cancer research.
“You become more aware of the disease and try to figure out the best way to cure it, not just treat it,” said Kim Van Deraa, Karl's life partner and mother of his daughter Kaci. “I know George has been talking about this for quite a few years, but not on such a big stage.
“Most of the time, someone in someone’s family has been stricken by cancer. It’s just trying to get people more aware. He felt like (the ESPY Awards) was a good stage to do that.”
After the show, Karl and Van Deraa returned to their hotel for dinner with Coby and his girlfriend. They ran into actor Samuel L. Jackson, who introduced Karl on stage, but that was the extent of their “after-party” experience. It had been a busy couple of weeks for Karl. He traveled to the Pacific Northwest to see his newborn granddaughter, attended the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and appeared at a dinner in support of St. Jude.
Exhausted from another productive day, Karl decided to call it a night. Like every other night, he could rest knowing that he had taken another important step in his crusade against cancer.