Last Saturday, while I was in Dallas, I had the opportunity to meet Denver Nuggets coach George Karl. Karl was slated to be the coach of the Western Conference All-Star team, but on this particular day he was doing meet and greets with members of the media. I wanted to interview him and speak to him about basketball matters, but I couldn’t seem to catch up with him. Either the crowd around him was too big, or he was talking to friends about non-basketball matters. Eventually I had to move on and talk to other available players and personalities.
But towards the end of the media session, I looked over in a corner somewhere, and I noticed Karl was signing an autograph for a little kid. And after the autograph, he kept talking to the kid about who his favorite player was (Carmelo Anthony), how he was enjoying Dallas so far, and what his grades were like in middle school. It was a warm exchange, and it was done away from the cameras and most of the media. As he ended his conversation with the kid and headed back to his hotel, I caught up with Karl, and I was ready to ask him some basketball questions, when I noticed he had teared up a bit.
I asked him if he was ok, and he said yes, but he really didn’t want to talk basketball, which I understood. I just told him I admired him as a coach, and I admired his battle with prostate cancer back in 2005. He shook my hand, thanked me, patted me on the shoulder, and then walked away slowly, and I felt honored to have shared a brief, tender moment with him.
Yesterday, Karl announced to the media that cancer had again showed up in his body, except this time it skipped his prostate, and it was in his throat and neck. His plan was to take a leave of absence, get treatments, and then hopefully come back for the playoffs. His press conference was emotional as you might imagine, and at one point he told the media, “You never get used to having cancer,” and then he broke down again. The entire Denver Nuggets team was standing behind him in support. He admitted that he knew during All-Star weekend that the cancer has come back, but he wanted to wait until after that weekend so he could tell his team the news first.
This morning, as I watched the press conference again, I told my lady, that you just never know what someone is going through. I saw Karl just a few days ago, sharing a tender moment with a kid, thinking he was just emotional by the interaction–meanwhile he was probably thinking about how few of these moments he could have left.