Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, George Karl and a bridge forever burned
Why the single-parent issue hits so deeply with Anthony, Martin and Karl
The quote from the book is self-reflective, yet inherently egotistical at its core.
“I learned a lot from that experience,” the passage reads. “Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”
That’s Donald Trump in his 1987 best-seller, The Art of the Deal. A book the president-elect refers to as second-best in world history only behind the Bible. Whether former NBA coach George Karl is familiar with the quote, much less the book itself, is unclear. But the premise seems to be the inspiration behind the marketing blitz for his new memoir, Furious George.
Karl won 1,175 games in his career — 423 with the Denver Nuggets. Which, ironically, is where the brunt of his disdain resonated: from mincing no words when addressing his superstar Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin (and, to an apparently lesser extent) J.R. Smith. Or as he dubbed them, “AAU babies.” Karl has lashed out against Anthony — “the best offensive player I ever coached,” he says — in the past. And, to be fair, some of his critiques, however negative, weren’t beyond much of what people have criticized the former Syracuse standout for throughout his career: He slacks off on defense, he wasn’t a true leader and is a so-so teammate at best. Harsh criticism, but shots that come with territory of being a marquee name in the NBA.
Despite how empathetic Karl attempts to come off in Furious George, the 2012-13 Coach of the Year and his new critiques of Anthony and Martin don’t tiptoe on the line between business and personal. They’re overly personal. In particular, their relationships, or lack thereof with their fathers.
“Carmelo grew up poor in West Baltimore. Single-parent home; his father died when he was two. With the drugs and violence in his neighborhood, it must have been like a combat zone,” George wrote. “But like Kenyon, he found a safe place under a hoop and on the playground. Hard work, skill, talent, and lucky DNA got Carmelo into a private high school and onto an AAU team.”
He laments, further saying, “Kenyon and Carmelo carried two big burdens: all that money and no father to show them how to act like a man. As you’ve read, I grew up in a safe suburban neighborhood, with both my parents. I had a second father in my college coach, the most moral, decent man I ever knew. And I never made enough money as a player to get confused about who I was. When I compare my background to Kenyon’s and Carmelo’s, it’s no wonder we had a few problems.”
It should go without saying coaching is an extremely difficult profession, especially when dealing with the best talent in the world. And in no situation in life is one side right 100 percent of the time, much like the other side is rarely, if ever, 100 percent wrong. This includes George Karl, himself. But coming off Phil Jackson’s (still ongoing) spat with LeBron James, it’s the language Karl uses that elicits the reaction.
The reality of the situation is this: a 2014 study conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed 46 percent of kids in America live in a home with both birth parents still married. This is compared with 73 percent in 1960 and 61 percent in 1980. Reasons stem from men and women delaying the union — some forgoing it altogether — divorce rates fluctuating and, of course, remarriage.
Yet, when Karl admits “it’s no wonder we had a few problems” when comparing Anthony and Martin’s backgrounds to his, it comes off as condescending with vague racial undertones. I wasn’t in the Nuggets locker room during their stint, so I can’t speak to how much Karl attempted to learn about his player’s emotional weaknesses or anything of the sort.
This isn’t about me, but I, like Anthony and Martin, grew up without my father. I didn’t meet him until I was 27, and even that meeting was by sheer coincidence. We spoke briefly that day in December 2013 and exchanged a few letters a year and a half later when I found out he was battling cancer. But that’s it. We haven’t corresponded since the summer of 2015. And, quite frankly, I’m not sure when we will speak again.
One dream that continues to drive me — as I’m sure it has with Anthony and Martin — is the desire to buck the trend. To give the gift you were never afforded. Karl mentions Anthony’s father dying when he was 2 and Martin growing up underprivileged in South Dallas with no pops around. Again, he’s addresses their upbringing and appears to fail to mention how they, in fact, turned out as parents. Whether Karl intended to or not, this further enforces the trend that black boys and girls who grow up in “broken homes” are destined to repeat the cycle. That stereotype alone influences so many others that speak to the fear of black life. I can’t attest to whether or not Anthony is a father of the year candidate, but he is giving his son, Kiyan, what he was never gifted: a stable two-parent household, while also asserting himself as a leader — something Karl said he wasn’t doing — in the conversation of athletes in activism in 2016. Meanwhile, Martin is a well-documented loving and authoritative parental figure in his kids’ lives — a dynamic he was never afforded. It’s one thing to bash his former players for the environments they were raised in or how he perceived their approach to the game. It’s provocative. It’ll sell books. It’s the straw stirring the drink. Nevertheless, it seems incumbent to address the entire spectrum, which Karl doesn’t appear to do.
No child asks to grow up without one of their parents around. You hear it growing up your entire life. You’re a bastard child. Where’s your daddy? Black kids growing up without their fathers only end up one way. You’re just another black kid who doesn’t know his father. I credit my mother and grandmother for bringing me up right and doing the best they could with what they had. But growing up in a single-parent household, once you step outside your door, you’re constantly reminded of what you don’t have, a fact of life you had absolutely no control over. But yet you pay the price in society because, well, society needs someone to blame. And stereotypes, unfortunately, drive conversations. That’s the world we live in.
But here’s another issue that hasn’t always been addressed when discussing Karl’s comments — their impact on single mothers. In particular, black single mothers. It took years for my mother to finally shed the guilt of being a single parent, twice divorced, with two kids. She constantly saw herself as the black woman who couldn’t keep a man because that’s how she believed many saw her once they came to understand the dichotomy of her personal life. Mentally, it’s exhausting. Emotionally, it’s twofold due to how it impacted her and how she feared society would treat my brother and me. That’s a heavy burden to get out of bed with day after day, one she has thankfully overcome. But it’s an all too common one.
It’s also why I’ve seen my mother as the strongest woman in the world and why I’m of the belief single mothers are, in many cases, superheroes. It’s why NBA players such as Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and LeBron James constantly sing the praises of their mothers. It’s no way they can pay them back for their sacrifices, but the plan is to show them that they understand. Unfortunately, it appears Karl doesn’t.
Without exactly saying it verbatim, by focusing on Anthony and Martin’s upbringings and what they didn’t have, Karl essentially placed blame on their mothers. You didn’t provide your sons the same benefits I had growing up. They turned out this way. And I had to suffer because of it. Again, Karl didn’t say this, but if you come from a single-parent dynamic (and even if you don’t), that’s how it reads. That’s how coded language works. And as a divorced parent himself, and one who nearly allowed basketball to irreversibly fracture the relationship with his son, Coby, it’s not foolish to think Karl should understand this.
“We had some tough times,” Karl said of his relationship with his son at Denver’s Pepsi Center in 2007. “We were not growing together. We were just surviving. In a lot of ways, I’m sure I cheated him, and I think in a lot of ways, I probably hurt him.”
If Karl beefing with Anthony and Martin were an anomaly, he’d figure to have more of a leg to stand on. But from Ty Lawson to J.R. Smith to DeMarcus Cousins to Andre Iguodala and many more who have all had negative memories of Karl as their coach, there becomes one recurring character in every disagreement: George Karl. Kendall Gill, while playing for the coach-turned-author in Seattle in 1995, blamed him for his depression that once caused him to take a medical leave of absence. And Ray Allen, whom Karl traded to the Seattle SuperSonics in the prime of his career, told The Associated Press in 2003 he “started despising him” and that whenever he attempted to talk to Karl it “always ended up being him talking and me listening.”
Anthony and Martin responded in ways mirroring their personas. The latter lashed out on Twitter, calling Karl a “terrible person” and an “awful and coward a– coach.” Anthony, after Thursday’s victory over the Orlando Magic, took a much more reserved approach, choosing not to fall for his former coach’s bait, adding he hoped Karl found happiness in his book and that he’s “past being disappointed.”
So many, especially when you’re black in America, will always view you in the light that allowed their stereotype to be justified, however unjustified it is. You’re not allowed to change. You’re not allowed to mature. You’re not allowed to realize your truest potential as a man, forget a basketball player. Every step you take they remind you, you ghetto, Jay Z said a decade ago. Reality checks, like revenge, are always served cold.