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MMA training part of routine for Nuggets assistant GM

Arturas Karnisovas fulfills lifelong passion after distinguished basketball career

Nuggets assistant general manager Arturas Karnisovas trains out of K Dojo Warrior Tribe in Fairfield, N.J.
Courtesy of Arturas Karnisovas

Fascinated by martial arts while growing up in the former Soviet Union, Arturas Karnisovas began specializing in Muay Thai and kickboxing when he retired from a distinguished international basketball career.

Standing 6 feet, 9 inches with a 7-foot armspan, he would be an imposing figure in the Octagon.

Nimble feet. Quick hands. A gymnast’s flexibility.

Karnisovas has developed his skills for more than seven years while training out of the K Dojo Warrior Tribe in Fairfield, N.J. Though the combat techniques of Muay Thai are commonly used by professional mixed martial arts fighters, he has no intention of appearing on a UFC undercard.

As assistant general manager of the Denver Nuggets, Karnisovas simply wants to keep himself fit while enjoying a discipline that was put on hold in his youth.

“It came easy because I was a huge fan when I was a teenager,” he said. “It’s another way for me to keep in shape and keep my body in tact. I like the mental aspect, as well. I’m 42. I’m not looking to get in the ring. That’s not my objective.”

Slowed by knee and ankle injuries at the end of his career, Karnisovas also trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, submission grappling and self-defense techniques. He has found the disciplines to be beneficial for his body from head to toe.

“People are surprised when I say I don’t play pickup (basketball) games anymore. I don’t play for one reason – not to get hurt,” Karnisovas said. “I play shooting games; I just don’t play pickup games. It’s just so bad for your body. If you don’t do it consistently, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’d rather watch it.”

Since hanging up his high tops, Karnisovas has found a niche evaluating talent across the globe.

He started working in basketball operations with the NBA office in 2004 and spent four years helping the league grow the game internationally before joining the Houston Rockets as an international scout.

Karnisovas was working as Houston’s scouting director when the Nuggets called this summer to offer him a position in their front office.

“It was difficult (to leave) because I’m a guy that gets attached to people,” he said.

Ultimately, Karnisovas was intrigued by the prospect of being part of a new era in Denver. In a 25-day span from June 17 to July 11, the Nuggets added Tim Connelly as general manager/executive vice president of basketball operations, Brian Shaw as head coach and acquired guard Randy Foye and forwards Darrell Arthur and J.J. Hickson.

“I thought it was a great opportunity,” Karnisovas said. “You can build and grow with a new group. It’s already a good team that accomplished a lot last year.”

Karnisovas brings an impressive list of accomplishments himself.

He was a four-year starter and two-time Scholar Athlete of the Year at Seton Hall in the early 1990s and went on to help Lithuania win Olympic bronze in 1992 and 1996. Karnisovas also played in the top pro leagues in Europe and was FIBA’s Player of the Year in 1996.

He now fulfills his competitive drive by challenging himself in Muay Thai. He holds the equivalent of a brown belt but isn’t sure if a black belt is in his future.

“With my line of work, I just can’t commit enough time that I feel comfortable that I deserve it,” he said. “Maybe someday I’ll be able to do it, but that window is getting smaller and smaller. At 42, it’s getting away from me.”

Given his skills, determination and armspan, nothing ever seems entirely out of reach.