If you’ve paid more than scant attention to the NBA at any point over the past four decades, you know the name George Karl. He’s the mercurial coach who has had a rapid rise and fall with pretty much every team he’s been with — most successfully with the Seattle Supersonics in the mid 1990s, most recently with the Sacramento Kings last season. He kind of looks like a John Lithgow impersonator who mainly works car shows and maybe a grand opening or two in the plains states.
If you’ve picked up D Magazine on a semi-regular basis, you know the name Curt Sampson, who has been one of our contributors for the past decade or so. Today, the book Sampson co-authored with Karl, Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection, hits stores. Though Sampson’s books and many of his stories for us have tended to focus on golf, he has written about basketball (and Karl) before: 1995’s Full Court Pressure, which followed the coach and the Sonics through the 1994 NBA season.
If you haven’t picked up on any of the controversy surrounding Furious George caused by excerpts, leaked quotes, and Karl’s publicity tour, well, the subtitle alone should tell you that it is destined to be as divisive as Karl has been over his long career. (To be clear, I have not read it yet.)
I asked Curt a few questions about all this over email.
Had Karl changed much in the 20 years since you wrote Full Court Pressure?
Compared with the George of 20 years ago, the current model is much easier to deal with. He’s calmer, sees beyond himself a lot more, is more considerate, more grateful, drinks a lot less. All this, possibly, from surviving cancer, and from his son surviving cancer. That said, he’s still a feisty son of a bitch.
What’s he like to work with?
Our working style was tough on the writer. Since he doesn’t do phone interviews or trade long emails, I had to go wherever he was in this great country to talk with him. Denver, San Francisco, Sacramento, Houston, San Antonio, Dauphin Island, Alabama … . But since we talked over beer and wings (or whatever) and since his stories are good, it was mostly fun.
When you were writing this with him, did you expect the reaction the book has gotten so far? Like, “Whoa, people are going to go crazy over this”?
Neither of us expected the shit storm. The sports media was shocked — shocked! — at his criticism of some players. Why is that beyond the pale? The obvious answer is that no reporter wants to risk being cut off by a player or a team, so not much truth is told. And in light of the swings Trump and Hillary took at each other, none of what we said seems so bad. I read some sports memoirs before starting on this project. They are uniformly boring. This one isn’t.
Are the excerpts pretty representative of the book as a whole?
I admit I haven’t seen the Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine excerpts, but I assume they are long enough to be good samples. But the one sentence out of context things don’t/can’t give a good picture.
Do you think he’s hurt his chances to coach in the future?
GK will coach again; GK can still win games.