George Karl an Inspiration to Cancer Victims
For the past half-decade, Denver coach George Karl has been telling anybody who would listen the U.S. government needs a national program to cure cancer.
Karl beat prostate cancer after he was diagnosed in 2005. Then his son, Coby Karl, now a Nuggets guard, successfully fought thyroid cancer in 2006 and 2007. And Karl missed the final 1½ months of last season due to a form of throat cancer, a battle he looks to be winning.
When Karl was told a few months ago he was to be honored at Wednesday's ESPYs with the Jimmy V Award for perseverance, named after former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993, Karl initially was reluctant. But he eventually realized he couldn't turn down a chance to preach his message before millions.
"When I was first told about the award, I didn't think I was worthy of accepting it,'' Karl said in an interview Friday with FanHouse. "But, as time goes on, I realized that it would be a chance to speak and help the cancer program. There's no cancer program like the Jimmy V (Foundation). ... I was humbled by the honor.''
In his speech, Karl talked about his cancer, about Coby's fight against the disease and about Valvano. He also spoke of what he hopes the government will do one day.
"Sometimes, I don't think America is aware of cancer as much as they should be,'' Karl said in the speech. "I think right now there is great teamwork to conquer this disease, but we need a national program to cure cancer, to defeat this disease.''
Karl got a standing ovation during the show. That humbled him further.
"He doesn't like too much attention paid to him, and just being in front of that audience was extraordinary,'' said Coby, who attended the event along with his girlfriend, Kristen Voyson, and Karl's life partner, KIm Van Deraa. "He was almost blushing. He wasn't expecting (the standing ovation). Anybody who knows my father knows he doesn't like recognition and compliments. But it tells you how much people appreciate him.''
Making it even more enjoyable for Karl was how well he's working his way back after a rugged stretch in March and April, which included difficult chemotherapy and radiation treatments and two visits to the hospital for blood clots in his lungs and legs.
"I'm doing better every day,'' Karl said. "Things are very positive.''
Karl will have the feeding tube removed Tuesday from his stomach after it was inserted in early March. Van Deraa said only recently has Karl, who has lost 40 pounds during his ordeal, returned to eating solid food. She said he recently has had tomatoes, macaroni and Frosted Flakes.
"They were one of the sponsors (at the ESPYs),'' Van Deraa said. "But he had to get them real soggy before he could eat them.''
The next big event in Karl's recovery is a PET scan during the first week of August. That will help determine if the chemotherapy and radiation got all of the cancer, avoiding a difficult neck surgery.
"From everything they've done, they've said they couldn't find anything,'' Van Deraa said of optimism by doctors that all of the cancer is gone. Karl's doctor, Jacques Saari, told FanHouse in April that initial tests at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore were very encouraging. "They've looked down his throat and they haven't found anything that shows (any tumor remains).''
Still, Karl said he's been told by a doctor not to put too much stock in next month's PET scan.
"He saw where I'd talked about that PET scan and he thought I'd overemphasized it,'' Karl said. "He said that I'm going to have about four or five them in the first year.''
But Karl isn't counting on anything getting in the way of coaching. He's been saying for several months he has no doubt about being back on the bench this season.
Making Karl even more excited about his return were moves the Nuggets made earlier this week to get their roster in order. They signed free-agent forward Al Harrington to a five-year, $33.4 million contract, got some additional depth in the post by signing Shelden Williams to a minimum deal and also re-signed to a minimum deal point guard Anthony Carter, one of Karl's favorites.
"We were dealt a bad hand last season,'' Karl said of his absence, when he was replaced by assistant Adrian Dantley, who was on the bench for a 4-2 first-round upset by Utah, and of forward Kenyon Martin missing 18 late-season games because of knee trouble. "I think we can get back to being one of the top 10 teams in the NBA. We'll have to prove ourselves with a little different personality (early on) without Kenyon and Chris Andersen.''
Martin and Andersen are both recovering from offseason knee surgeries. Karl said both big men will be limited in training camp but more won't be known until September whether either will be ready for the season opener.
While he's not nearly as key of a player, there's somebody else Karl would love to see available for Denver's season opener. That would be Coby, whose $854,389 contract becomes guaranteed for the season if he's still on the Nuggets' roster past Aug. 15.
If that day passes with Coby still on the team and barring a trade before the season, that would truly assure Karl becomes the first man ever to coach his son in the NBA. While Karl was technically the Nuggets coach when Coby signed for the remainder of last season April 11, he wasn't with the team and it was Dantley who coached the guard.
"I think he played great,'' Karl said of his son, who averaged 14.0 points in four Denver games at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas before missing the final game to go to the ESPYs. "I think he played good enough (to make the roster next season).''
Karl has said it would be a "dream'' to coach his son, a two-year NBA veteran who didn't get into a game for Denver but has played for the Lakers, Cleveland and Golden State, in the NBA.
"It was a positive experience once again,'' Coby said of also having played well for the Nuggets last summer in Las Vegas. "We'll have to see what happens... It would just be exciting for me to be on the team (next season).''
It certainly would make Karl's year if it happens. Any progress toward a national cancer program also would help it.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@christomasson