George Karl received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance during the 2010 ESPY Award ceremony on Wednesday night. Jimmy Valvano gave an inspiring 1993 ESPY Awards speech just eight weeks before he died of cancer.
Coach Karl spent most of this last year battling throat cancer and going through treatments that left him tested, but not hopeless at times.
Karl, who had been cancer-free since prostate surgery in July 2005, went through 36 continuous treatment sessions of radiation therapy five days a week for six weeks, the last two or three being the most difficult.
Encountering severe burns associated with the radiation treatment, the toll left Karl about 40 pounds lighter.
"It's a personal challenge, it's a family challenge and you have to have your family support you. I had an incredible family," said Coach Karl. Coby Karl, George Karl's son, also went through two surgeries of his own for thyroid cancer only a year after his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
George Karl was signed to ABA's San Antonio Spurs in 1973 and stayed with the Spurs after they joined the NBA in 1976. Beginning in 1984, Karl's coaching career consists of 986 wins to 671 losses to date, making the playoffs 19 out of his 22 seasons and making a Finals appearance in '96 when the Seattle Supersonics stretched the Chicago Bulls to six games before losing a hard-fought battle.
In all seven of his seasons in Seattle, the team made the postseason every year and won three division titles.
Placed on leave of absence from the Denver Nuggets, Karl is determined to make it back for another run.
He coached the Western Conference All-Stars at the 2010 NBA All-Star Game on February 14 in Arlington, Texas, after which he revealed that he was diagnosed with treatable neck and throat cancer.
"I don't know that I've come to terms with this yet," Karl said during the heartfelt press conference. By now he's certainly come to terms with beating a disease researchers estimated were about 1.5 million new cancer cases and about 562,340 cancer deaths in 2009.
"Cancer is a fight," Coach Karl also said during that press conference. " I don't care if it's a curable one or an incurable one, there's no guaranteed contracts in this gig."
The passion he's had all these years drawing up plays and figuring out his opponents showed through again Wednesday night when advocating for the research, asking the federal government to match every dollar donated to the cancer cause.
A fund-raising dinner for St. Jude's Research Hospital in Memphis kicked of the NBA's Summer League this last Thursday, honoring George Karl. Players and teams around the league raised more than $200,000 so far this year for St. Jude's.
"It is so much in me," he said Thursday. "We're competitors. And I've always been proud of being a competitor. I've always been proud of never being on a losing team in the NBA, playing or coaching. But I want you to know, all of these great competitors out there, from Kobe Bryant, some of the people that I sat with in radiation treatment, and sat with in chemotherapy treatment, are better competitors than we are."
A sentiment he repeated again at the ESPY award ceremony Wednesday night.
Karl jokingly pointed out that Jimmy V was part of the Wolfpack at North Carolina, while he himself was a Tarheel. He went on to say, "I've gone through five months of treatment , and I'm going to come back, and I hpoe i can come back the way Jimmy V came back, and even stronger."