Thursday, October 16
SSS HOF #9: George Karl, Part II
Have you ever watched a five-year-old paint a picture?
In the beginning, the work appears, while often manic and confusing, promising. There are strokes of brilliance, a beautiful mixture of soft and hard brushes, and, at one point, it appears as if the entire project will become a smashing success.
Sadly, inevitably, the process cannibalizes itself. The five-year-old begins dumping all the paint onto the page, gets frustrated, throws things around the room, complains he wasn’t given the proper tools, and eventually walks away from the work before it is completed.
Likewise with George Karl’s various tenures as an NBA head coach.
I won’t speak to the other destinations in Karl’s version of The Odyssey, but even the heartiest defender of his time in Seattle would begrudgingly admit that it was a marriage marked more by conflict than agreement, a relationship headed for break-up almost as soon as it began.
That isn’t to say that Karl wasn’t beloved by Sonic fans – in fact, you could argue that he is more loved than any coach in team history, his off-the-cuff manner and everyman persona a hit with fans from Blaine to Walla Walla.
And yet, and yet … there was always something frustrating about the Karl Sonics. The Sonics’ first-round loss to Denver came the 2nd year of the Clinton presidency, yet it feels as raw and painful today as it did more than a decade ago.
There were numerous complaints about Karl’s team while he was in Seattle: that they lacked a competent half-court offense and that they could only operate successfully in the open floor were chief among them. (I can vividly recall hoping that Hersey Hawkins would prove to be the elusive spot-up jump shooter the Sonics needed at the 2-guard, only to see him be as mediocre as all the other players who passed through that spot. Was it Karl? Was it the dominating affect of GP in the backcourt? Hard to say.)
Still, those playoff frustrations paled in comparison to the wounds we would suffer as Sonic fans a decade later. Sure, it’s painful to get spurned by the girl you adore on the dance floor, but it’s even worse not to go at all.
Heck, in the decade after Karl left, Sonic fans didn’t even know there was a dance.
But back to the man himself. More than any other adjective stapled to his life in Seattle, George Karl was fun.
Frustrated because your team doesn’t have passion? Not when George is in town.
Want your guys to push the ball faster up the court? Gotcha.
Wish your coach would speak his mind and not talk in double-negatives and clichés? Not exactly a problem with Karl.
And that’s why, with the Karl Era firmly in the rearview mirror, we can look upon it as a success from all angles. Yes, he should have nurtured his relationship with Bob Whitsitt and, more importantly, Barry Ackerly. Sure, he could have taken a page from the Chuck Knox Book of Life and played the cards he was dealt a little more happily. Naturally, a championship would have been the perfect topping to the mixed-up concoction he gave us for a half-dozen wonderful years.
But to have done that would have violated his bizarre methodology. George Karl, like that five-year-old, wasn’t one to paint by numbers. He wanted big, broad strokes and flamboyant colors, by damn, and nobody was going to tell him otherwise.
Speaking as a Sonic fan, I’m certainly glad he felt that way.