Long-time NBA head coach George Karl has pretty much seen it all in the NBA over a four-decade-long career in which he was involved with the league, first as a player and then, for the most part, as a coach. Karl is 6th all-time when it comes to total wins in the NBA as a head coach and has the opportunity to coach quite a few HOF players and some pretty iconic teams throughout his career.
The media said Karl attacked the fan
Even with such a vast collection of stories and memories from all the games he coached in his career, a few moments stand out among all the others. In his book 'Furious George", Karl describes a crazy playoff game when he coached the Golden State Warriors against the Utah Jazz back in the 80s. Both teams were up and coming in the NBA, with Jazz having a bit more talent, with prime Karl Malone and John Stockton leading the way, alongside a tremendous supporting cast.
The Warriors lost the first two games, which meant one more loss resulted in elimination because back then, it was the best out of five. Those consecutive losses infuriated Karl so much, and before he knew it, a massive scuffle broke out between players and fans that made the thing even worse. The TV play-by-play guy even said George Karl assaulted the fan.
“George Karl is going at a fan! George Karl is going at a fan! George Karl is going at a fan! Now George knocks him over!” shouted our TV play-by-play guy to the viewers back in the Bay. “George Karl has lost it and he has attacked a fan!”
In the book, Karl provides a bit different explanation of what really happened on the court when everyone started to go after each other, which turned out into a scuffle between Karl Malone and one of the Warriors players, after which fans got involved as well.
"Perhaps I should explain: our Greg Ballard and Malone got into it a little as Game Two ended. Karl threw the ball at Greg, and Greg threw it back harder. Security wasn’t very good, so a bunch of fans spilled out onto the floor along with every player and coach. Lots of shoving, a crazy, disorganized scene, including rehabbed Chris Washburn trading insults with Mark Eaton and having to be held back."
Mullin took care of business
According to Karl, a guy with a white cap went after him and punched him in the back, after which Karl no longer cared what happened. So he stormed toward the fan, but it was none other than Chris Mullin who stepped in and did what Karl intended to do initially, knock the fan out cold.
"While I was trying to break up a scuffle, some dumbass in a backward white ball cap and a white golf shirt punched me in the back. I was already unhappy at the final score, and now this! I turned around and charged. White hat guy backpedaled through the confusion of bodies, and then Chris Mullin—not me—knocked the shit out of him. I didn’t really lose it.”
After losing that specific game after an incident that would probably be all over ESPN if it happened today, the Warriors won the next two games at home and eventually won the series in five games. It was also a learning experience for Karl, who noticed moments like these could inspire players and fans to bring that little extra to the next game.
“Now our team and our fans had emotion to burn—I stirred the pot a little bit in the media—and we won the next two games at home to tie. But no way could we win Game Five back in Salt Lake City. No NBA team had come back from two games down to win a five-game series since the Fort Wayne Pistons did it in 1956."
That Warriors squad lost in the second round to the Showtime Lakers that ended up winning the championship that season. However, that specific series against the Jazz showed Karl that sometimes brutal and somewhat crazy moments can bring life into a team and into the fan base facing elimination in the most critical part of the season.