George Karl has won 1,000 NBA games. The rebel has gone legitimate.
For much of his coaching career, Karl has been the outsider, the fighter. He was notorious for scrambling the game defensively. He appeared to take perverse joy in criticizing his own players publicly. He had his fights with management, he quit one job in frustration and he even moved to Spain to coach Real Madrid for a couple of years when he needed the work. He was a terrific coach -- 18 straight years for three NBA franchises without a losing season speaks for itself. Yet, upon the high platform shared by the six others who have won at least 1,000 NBA games, Karl has usually been seen as the edgy one. The outsider.
Often he seemed to be arguing for respect. He framed his complaints as if he was defending the principles of the game itself. He wanted to win a championship as badly as anyone, and yet he refused to allow his standing to be relegated by that lonesome failure of his career. He acted like a candidate for burnout but here he stands now, 59 years old and suddenly an unmistakably inspirational figure.
Karl fought another battle with cancer last season, and recovered from the treatments to return to the Nuggets' bench this season. His team didn't know how much it would miss him until he was gone. The Nuggets went south in his absence late last season, losing to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. Now, despite rumors of Carmelo Anthony's departure, the Nuggets (14-8) are back in contention, thanks to his presence.
Karl is now viewed as a stabilizing figure, benefiting from the hard-earned perspective of his, and his son Coby's, fight against cancer. He has lost weight and gained influence. Throat cancer did not rob him of his voice; if anything, he has accumulated more authority.
Few coaches have displayed more charisma or fire or recklessness, but nothing speaks more to George Karl's career than this large earned number. One thousand victories speaks to patience and stubbornness and excellence. When it comes to debating the greatest coaches of modern times, the outsider has now worked himself inside the middle of the argument.