By R.L. Bynum
NEW ORLEANS — George Karl, one of the finest playmakers in Carolina basketball history, left Chapel Hill with so many fabulous career memories but never had had a cherished spot in the Smith Center rafters.
That will change after Saturday.
He is one of the Class of 2022 inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced Saturday. Karl will become the 12th Tar Heel to be inducted, including his coach in Chapel Hill, the legendary Dean Smith, in a ceremony Sept. 9 in Springfield, Mass.
“My number is not retired at North Carolina, but now they have a jersey of the Hall of Famer,” Karl said at a press conference for inductees Saturday afternoon at the Superdome. “Now, I’ll be in the rafters at North Carolina. So, I get two wins, I get in the Hall of Fame and I get in the Dean Dome at Chapel Hill.”
Also in the 2022 class are former NBA stars Manu Ginobili and Tim Hardaway; former WNBA champion and two-time college national champion Swin Cash; longtime college coach Bob Huggins, WNBA champion and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Lindsay Whalen; NCAA national championship coach and former WNBA Coach of the Year Marianne Stanley; and former NBA official Hugh Evans.
“To be a part of basketball almost all my life, I’ve loved being around the game of basketball from practice, hanging out with media, though winning and losing,” Karl said. “I coached in Europe, I coached in the CBA, I coached at a lot of places and it’s just a celebration. I thank the Hall of Fame for the honor of picking me.”
Other Tar Heels already in the Hall in addition to Smith are coaches Ben Carnevale, Frank McGuire, Larry Brown and Roy Williams and players Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Charlie Scott and Bobby Jones (who was the last inductee in 2019).
“Part of my life was formed by North Carolina basketball,” Karl said. “I was in high school as a scorer. I came out of high school and went to North Carolina and Coach Smith told me I wasn’t allowed to shoot. So, I learned the game under Coach Smith.”
It’s appropriate that the Hall of Fame gave Karl a 22 jersey. It was, of course, for the Class of 22 but that was also his number at Carolina.
It was during the first six months of his college career when he was out after back surgery that he first started to think about a coaching career as he watched film sessions.
“Coach said the first year, he thought I’d be a good coach,” Karl said. “My foundation of basketball is very much North Carolina. It’s a team game, it’s a powerful game when we play as a team.”
Karl was the Tar Heels’ starting point guard all three of his seasons in Chapel Hill, leading them to an NIT title in 1971, the Final Four in 1972 and the NIT semifinals in 1973, making All-ACC as a senior.
It was on the road to that 1971 NIT title that Carolina beat Duke in the semifinals in the only postseason game between the rivals outside of the ACC tournament before Saturday’s matchup in the Final Four. Karl’s team beat the Blue Devils in three of four meetings that season.
He played five seasons for the San Antonio Spurs, their last three as an ABA franchise and their first two as an NBA franchise.
Karl is one of 10 coaches in NBA history with 1,000 victories. He was 1,175–824 (58.8%), ranking sixth all-time in NBA wins with 12 seasons of at least 50 victories and three seasons of at least 60.
Karl coached the Cleveland Cavaliers (1984–86), the Golden State Warriors (1986–88), the Seattle Supersonics (1992–98), the Milwaukee Bucks (1998–2003), Denver (2005–13) and the Sacramento Kings (2015–16).
Karl guided five franchises to a total of 22 playoff appearances, leading the Sonics to the NBA Finals (1996), was named the NBA Coach of the Year with Denver (2013) and was an All-Star Game head coach four times (1994, 1996, 1998 and 2010).
Karl averaged 12.3 points per game in leading Carolina to a 26–6 season and the NIT title his sophomore season, then averaged 11.7 points as a junior on the 29–5 Final Four team.