Coby Karl and Chris Lofton Share the NBA Road Less Traveled
Each year, the NBA's Summer League seems to come and go without even being noticed.
Young men are competing for a career in Orlando and Las Vegas, while established free agents await million-dollar deals from their suitors, attracting the attention of NBA fans.
For two aspiring NBA guards, this summer is about more than a contract; it's a vindication against a disease nearly every American has been affected by.
Coby Karl and Chris Lofton are teammates and cancer survivors on the Boston Celtics' summer team in the NBA's Orlando Summer League.
In 2006, Karl, the son of Nuggets head coach George Karl, underwent surgery to remove his thyroid after being diagnosed with papillary carcinoma.
After the surgery, Karl underwent a round of chemotherapy, but it wasn't enough. He had to go back to the operating room to have cancerous lymph nodes removed in April of 2007 following his senior season at Boise State.
For Lofton, it was a cancer that strikes deep within the heart of every male—testicular cancer.
The former Tennessee Volunteer was diagnosed at the end of the 2006-07 season. He only confided in a small support group while playing the 2007-08 season and had surgery following that year.
Both players defeated cancer following their final year in school, but instead of letting cancer dictate their professional paths, they hit the court.
Neither college standout was selected in the draft this June—not even Lofton, who was the 2007 SEC Player of the Year.
Karl's NBA dream came quicker than expected when he was signed as a rookie free agent by the Los Angeles Lakers. Some suggested Karl's place on the team was a handout—a favor because of who his father is—but through hard work, intelligence, and a sweet-shooting stroke, Karl is making a name for himself.
Coby spent most of his rookie season watching the other Kobe on the bench and getting run on L.A.'s D-League team. He once played a doubleheader, suiting up for both clubs in a Deion Sanders-esque move.
In the opening round of the 2008 NBA Playoffs, Karl saw his Lakers trounce his father's Nuggets and even played a little more than two minutes in a blowout.
Before Karl could get a second chance at playing time and a championship ring, the Lakers released him, ending Coby Karl's first stint in the NBA.
Before making a move into coaching, Karl decided to keep playing.
Last season, he played on Ricky Rubio's DKV Joventut. He had a minimal impact, as most young Americans do, and is now back as a part of the Celtics organization.
For Chris Lofton, the path to Boston hasn't been as eventful.
Lofton signed a one-year deal with Mersin BB after leaving Tennessee as the SEC's leading three-point shooter of all time.
Mersin BB is a part of the Turkish Basketball League and boasts alumni Hedo Turkoglu, Mehmet Okur, and Anthony Mason. Now, the most recognizable names are Robert "Tractor" Traylor, Bootsy Thornton, and Nate Funk.
In Turkey, Lofton averaged 20.1 points per game, including scoring outbursts of 47 and 61 points in two games. In those two breakout games, Lofton hit 30 of 42 threes (71.4 percent) according to the TBL site.
Clearly, Lofton can shoot the ball. However, through two games of the Orlando Summer League, he is three of six from behind the arc in only 18 minutes of play.
Coby Karl could not play in Boston's first game due to a FIBA technicality, but he poured in a team-high 18 points the second game.
Neither player is guaranteed a spot on the roster, and this might be the only time they share the floor.
Karl has impressed with his overall play in his game against Orlando. One NBA analyst even tweeted, "He is, without doubt, an NBA player."
Lofton, on the other hand, will have to shoot his way onto a roster. The Celtics are looking at several backup point guard options, but a player who can play 10 minutes and hit two or three threes is always an asset.
No matter where these two warriors' NBA paths take them, they will always be connected through the Boston Celtics' summer league team—and their inspirational battles.
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