Sunday Musings: George Karl focused on legacy


Legacy is an interesting term.  The definition is blasé – “Something handed down from an ancestor or predecessor.”  But in application it means so much more.

As a father, your children are part of your legacy.  The time and energy you put into raising them the right way is part of what you leave behind.  You dedicate time teaching them how to throw a ball.  You sit next to them and help them with their homework.  You teach them about the right from wrong.

It’s not just about giving them the skills to succeed in life.  It’s about imprinting ideals that you believe are important.  It’s not enough to teach a kid how to field a grounder, anyone can do that.  Teaching a ball player to be a good teammate, to share and be part of something bigger is a much more useful life skill.

The same can be said about the emphasis you place on education or even the way you celebrate a child’s birthday.  As a parent, you are handing down tid bits of yourself.   You are setting the stage for how your children will raise their own children when they are older.  You are building a legacy with every minute you spend reading or making a diorama or cleaning out a guinea pig’s cage.

The hope is that your child will take what he or she has learned and pass it down.  That they will not just learn how to make an ancient tool out of a stick, a rock and a leather shoelace, but they will spend the same time doing something similar with their child someday as well.

Maybe it’s the fact that I have a big birthday coming up or just that I am being sentimental, but I now look at the mark I am leaving behind in this world with a little more carefully.  And to tie it all back to the Sacramento Kings, so is George Karl.

After 1,042 career wins, including 12 50-plus win seasons and 22 trips to the playoffs, Karl’s legacy as a coaching great is intact.  He has Hall of Fame credentials.  But like every great leader, he wants more.

He would love a championship ring or two to pad his résumé, and he certainly has his eyes set on Don Nelson’s all-time mark of 1,335 wins.  But I’m not sure that even that is enough.  It’s not enough to be known as a winner and a guy who’s good at “fix-up jobs.”

After two bouts with cancer, Karl’s approach to the game has changed.  He is certainly aware of his own mortality, as he’s stared it down a couple of times.  In his final post in the NBA, Karl is looking to broaden his stamp on the game of basketball.  He wants to further expand his coaching tree, or maybe it’s even more than that.

As a disciple of North Carolina coaching legend Dean Smith, Karl may even be looking to continue the legacy of his mentor through direct lineage.

What this means is that more change is coming to the Sacramento Kings.

Karl wants generals now, not soldiers.  He wants to help build the next generation of coaching excellence in the same way that his close friend Gregg Popovich has.

We have already seen the rumors that Chad Iske will join Karl’s staff as an associate head coach.  He will unite with Vance Walberg as Karl’s second hire from his time in Denver.  Iske spent 14 seasons in Denver and is known for his skills as player development coach.  He will act as Karl’s right hand man.  Expect more additions like these two.

This isn’t to disparage any of the Kings’ current assistant coaches.  There is plenty of experience and talent in the group.  Sacramento’s remaining three assistants all joined Michael Malone’s staff in 2013 and we have yet to learn their fate.  Micah Nori spent 15 years in Toronto before joining the Kings.  Ryan Bowen spent two seasons on Karl’s staff in Denver, and Corliss Williamson was the front man at the University of Central Arkansas for three seasons before coming back to Sacramento, where he had two stints as a player.

Are any of the three a future head coach in the NBA?  Karl would know better than I would about that.  What we do know is that like the players, this group survived three head coaches this season and they are all quality individuals.

That may not be enough.  Karl wants to teach and groom young coaches who will further build on his legacy.  From talking with him, it’s his duty to pass along as much as he can in the time he has remaining in the league.

Karl already has a few coaches littered throughout the NBA that either coached or played under him at some point.  The list includes current head coaches Terry Stotts and Dwane Casey.  But he also has a stack of former head coaches who may get another look in the league including Scott Brooks, Vinny Del Negro, Nate McMillan, Mike Woodson and Sam Mitchell.

He has three years remaining on his deal in Sacramento, and he may coach a few more years after that.  In that time, you should expect Karl to not only find his replacement for when he is finally ready to hang it up, but also to find more branches that will represent him and coach Smith when he is gone.

Karl is an innovator.  He is one of the great basketball minds of this generation, and he has proven time and time again that he can connect with a team and lead them to victory.  There should be a line around the corner of coaches who want an opportunity to be a part of his legacy.



About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".