Surrounded by members of his Denver Nuggets team, an emotional coach George Karl announced last night that he has throat and neck cancer and, as a result, will miss periods of time heading down the home stretch of the season for treatments. Karl has been diagnosed with squamous-cell head/neck cancer, marking the second time in five years he’s battled the disease (via the Denver Nuggets Web site).
Treatment will consist of 35 chemotherapy sessions over the next six weeks, reports ESPN, an intense regimen that will have Karl eating through a tube in the final weeks. Karl admits he’s struggling to come to terms with this second battle with cancer.
“I have friends and family praying for me, and the whole spiritual aspect is keeping me strong,” he says. “But I’m not Superman.”
The announcement comes at an otherwise great time for Karl and the Nuggets. He’s led his team to its current second-place seat in a stacked Western Conference and the top spot in the Northwest Division, and Karl is on track to take them right back to the Western Conference Finals. On top of that, he coached the Western Conference team in last weekend’s All-Star Game and was recently granted a one-year, $4.5 million contract extension with Denver, a deal that was made despite his cancer.
Reuters notes that the Nuggets have known about Karl’s condition for weeks. Denver Stiffs’ Andrew Feinstein talks with Karl’s attorney and good friend, who says the Nuggets acted with the utmost integrity throughout the process and have been nothing but supportive since learning about Karl’s cancer.
Feinstein adds that the team’s leaders—Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, and Chauncey Billups—seem to be taking the news the hardest, but the body language of every player during yesterday’s press conference made it clear the situation isn’t easy.
Assistant coach Adrian Dantley will take over as head coach on game nights Karl can’t be on the bench, but responsibilities for managing the team will fall between several assistant coaches.