Emotional Karl may miss time for son's cancer surgery

Updated: March 20, 2007, 8:27 PM ET
Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Denver Nuggets coach George Karl always takes his son, Coby, on one in-season NBA road trip. This time, the trip has special meaning.

They share a bond that goes beyond father-son and basketball. George Karl is a cancer survivor. Coby, 23, is fighting the disease.

ESPN The Magazine
Nuggets coach George Karl has learned plenty of life lessons from his son Coby. Story Insider

The Nuggets started a five-game road trip Tuesday night at New Jersey. This will be their last trip together before Coby, a senior guard at Boise State, has another surgery to treat thyroid cancer on April. 2.

"It's hard, and made me realize I have to take care of him," an emotional George Karl said before the Nets game. "Our goals and missions and priorities are to get him healthy."

The surgery will be the second in 13 months for Coby Karl, who had his thyroid removed after being diagnosed with papillary carcinoma, a form of treatable cancer. He also underwent chemotherapy to try to kill off any remaining cancer cells shortly after his surgery.

The younger Karl will have cancerous lymph nodes removed April 2, two days after playing in the NABC All-Star game in Atlanta.

"He's a strong kid," George Karl said. "In his mind he has a strong case of the flu. He doesn't read the books I read or talk to the doctors I talk to. He doesn't want to hear that. He feels like he'll just go get it done. He calls it an annoyance to him."

Karl laughs a little when he thinks about what his son said. But he knows it's more than an annoyance.

George Karl knows all about it. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005 and underwent surgery.

Dealing with his son's disease has not been easy. Coby recently had about 10 to 15 doctors appointments and underwent five to 10 tests before the latest game plan was drawn up to treat what has been described as a curable cancer.

Nothing about cancer is that simple.

"You get mad," Karl said. "You get mad at why he has to go through this. He has handled it very well and I think in a humanistic way, he has grown up because of it. It's so hard. Any time a parent feels the pain of a son or a daughter, it's multiple factors of emotion, concern and pain, whatever you want to call it."

George Karl has not been immune from that pain in his own job. He admitted there was a time in January his players noticed that he was distracted at times.

He eventually told the team captains about his son's condition at the end of the month, a time that his son amazingly won a Western Athletic Conference player of the week award playing on sheer adrenaline.

Talking about his son on Tuesday was not easy. When asked if coaching this season had either been a release or more difficult during his son's battle, Karl put his head down and waited almost 15 seconds before answering.

His eyes were a little misty when he looked up and started to talk.

"I don't know the answer to that," he said. "Some days it probably has been a release. It's been hard. But I don't want to get emotional, I don't want to lose it and I would rather stay away from talking about it."

Karl said there is a chance he will miss a couple of games when the surgery is performed, noting that the Lakers and Sacramento are on the schedule on the third and fourth.

"I am going to do what I have to do with him and when he is surgically recovered I'll come back to the team," Karl said.

Coby Karl is scheduled to play in the NABC All-Star game in Atlanta on March 31, then return to Boise for surgery.

The lymph node cancer was discovered in mid-January before the Broncos played at Utah State. The younger Karl kept the diagnosis private until after Boise State lost to New Mexico State in the WAC tournament semifinals, ending the team's season.

Coby Karl led the Broncos with 14.8 points per game and was the team leader in minutes played, assists and 3-pointers. Karl finished his career third on Boise State's career scoring list with 1,698 points and the school's all-time leader in games played, and 3-pointers made and attempted.

The loss has given the Karls time to enjoy their annual trip, and each other.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press