Ailene Voisin

George Karl not making friends with ‘Furious George’

I enjoyed the book. No, I really, really enjoyed the book, or at least 90 percent of it. George Karl’s soon-to-be-released memoir, “Furious George,” is an entertaining, intimate journey around the NBA, a revealing, often angry account of 40 years on the job.

This is George unplugged – zany, combative, innovative, insightful, forever on the edge. But this is also why Kenyon Martin, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and several of his former players approached the holidays afire, why many of his friends are shaking their heads, and why he probably will never get another head-coaching job. The fifth-winningest coach in NBA history ignored the delete button on his laptop. He used a machete when a scissor would have sufficed, attacked when discretion would have been more appropriate.

He uses the word “hate” repeatedly.

Why? Because rage sells?

In the book’s introduction, Karl urges the reader to “imagine I am on the next bar stool over and you’ve asked me what it’s really like inside pro basketball. You seem okay, you’re buying, and I want to say what I want to say. I don’t mind a reaction and I don’t mind pissing off 29 teams. The only team I want to be happy is my own.”

While that makes some sense – and many authors provoke to promote their own works – a kinder, gentler George would have been better received. His harsh depiction of Anthony, Martin and Smith, among others, detracts from an otherwise thoughtful, interesting, often hilarious read. “Getting rid of Carmelo Anthony (in Denver trade to New York in 2011) was a sweet release for the coach and the team, like popping a blister,” Karl writes. “What I got (from J.R.) was a player with a huge sense of entitlement, a distracting posse, his eye always on the next contract, and some really unbelievable shot selection.”

Of Martin, he says, “I knew right away that our power forward was one of the most insecure, immature players I have ever coached.”

Karl’s biggest mistake is playing dime store sociologist and suggesting Martin and Anthony, both products of the inner city, “carried two big burdens: all that money and no father to show them how to act like a man.”

As opposed to acting like a woman? As if a mother is incapable of teaching life skills? The stereotype insults anyone raised by a single mother, and the term “posse” is highly offensive to the league’s black players, as Phil Jackson can attest. (Though an early draft detailing Karl’s brief tenure with the Kings was released to several outlets, the book includes less than two pages about his experiences in Sacramento. His plan is to dissect his troubled relationship with DeMarcus Cousins, his disappointment in general manager Vlade Divac, and his outright disdain for principal owner Vivek Ranadive in an updated version when his contract expires.)

Even without an in-depth accounting of his tumultuous time with the Kings, “Furious George” is infused with anger, and with insight. There is a lot to inhale here. Karl fully embraces his combative personality and unconventional approach, painfully recounts his Seattle SuperSonics’ crushing loss to the Chicago Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals, provides delightful anecdotes about life in the minor leagues and on the road, addresses his career-long commitment to playing fast, chronicles his hate-love bond with Gary Payton and constant worries about Shawn Kemp, chides Nuggets management for firing him after a 57-win season, and offers one particularly explosive claim about the use of performance-enhancing drugs within the league.

“It’s obvious some of our players are doping,” he alleges. “How are some guys getting older – yet thinner and fitter? Why the hell are they going to Germany in the offseason? I doubt it’s for the sauerkraut.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will chew miserably on that little nugget over the holidays. But for someone who has known Karl since he was named coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1984, and who has long regarded him as one of the most innovative minds in the game, the book truly reads as if he were sitting at the neighborhood bar, diagramming plays, pondering the value of big men, debating the merits of switching defenses, eagerly discussing current events; this is him.

The most compelling part of the book is when Karl tackles Karl. He is unsparing here, too. In a brutally honest assessment of his personal life, he accepts blame for his failed marriage and admits to poor parenting skills. “Being my son (Coby) was rough for the same reasons it was miserable to be my wife,” he says. He reveals that “depression hit me hard” after Coby was diagnosed with thyroid cancer only months after his own ordeal with prostate cancer. In 2010, more health problems: A malignant lump was discovered below his chin.

“Five-year survival rates were between 30 and 50 percent,” Karl writes, in chilling detail, “making mine the eighth-most fatal cancer. Bleep.”

Again, I enjoyed the book immensely, though was left wondering why the future Hall of Famer has so much anger after all these years and all that success. Despite his habit of throwing a wrench into a purring engine, Karl’s accomplishments and exceptional basketball mind are widely acknowledged by both his friends and his critics; everyone knows Crazy George can coach. Is it the daily fear of being a two-time cancer survivor and fearing for his son’s health, though both have been cancer-free for years? The near-miss in the Finals? The firing in Denver? His uncharacteristically short, ill-fated tenure with the Kings?

Only Karl has the answers, or maybe, there aren’t any answers.

But I wish him peace and good health, and good luck with the book sales.

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, @ailene_voisin

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