George Karl played at North Carolina for Dean Smith. In other words, Karl deifies Carolina Basketball.
How did that square when coaching the Kings, who had former Duke player Seth Curry?
Curry and Adrian Wojnarowski discussed that on The Vertical Podcast with Woj:
- Wojnarowski: “The Kings’ GM, Vlade Divac, you knew him from your days in Charlotte with your dad. He was a teammate of your dad’s, and he had some belief in you. People around the Kings told me that – and listen, we can go back and look at how it went with George Karl. You had opportunities. You played pretty well, and then you’d get buried again. People there told me that – and at first, I didn’t believe it because it sounds like an excuse somebody would make for somebody – but he’s a Carolina guy, and you’re a Duke guy. And some people there told me that he has some preconceived ideas of what Duke pros were like, that they didn’t make it or they ended up not being what people said they would be and that he would say it out loud and people there would hear it. Did you ever hear it?”
- Curry: “Yeah, I did. It felt like every single day he would make a little Duke jab or say something about Duke-Carolina or something. I’m like, “Wow, this is happening every single day? This might be a little real.” But I don’t know if that’s the reason why he didn’t play me on a consistent basis or whatever it was. But I used to hear it, and Ii used to hear people talk about how serious he was about it. And I mean, it was a tough time early on that year.”
- Wojnarowski: “Because that’s normal, guys busting chops about you went to Carolina, I went to Duke. That’s normal, like Syracuse-Georgetown somewhere else or UCLA-USC, whatever. But it felt like something more over time, like, no, he really has an idea, that this is factoring into his thought process on whether I can be a player here or not.”
- Curry: “I heard the same things you heard coming in, when they were talking about signing me and things like that. And it’d be like, “But I don’t know about Duke players. Seth can play. I saw him, what he can do. But I just don’t know how Duke players pan out in the league.” So, it’s funny to hear. But for me, I feel like it’s the NBA, and once you leave college, it’s a different path for every single player.”
Wojnarowski is right: This type of banter occurs all the time, and it’s almost always friendly. It’s hard to believe a coach would take a college rivalry so seriously.
Then again, Karl wouldn’t be the only high-ranking NBA employee to question the NBA impact of Duke players.
Plus, Karl had poor relationships with his players, especially DeMarcus Cousins, in Sacramento. In a different environment, I’d assume Curry was being overly sensitive if he used that as an excuse. In basketball hell, it’s far too possible Karl’s motives were inappropriate.
Karl, of course, was fired after the season.