Karl makes triumphant return, records career win No. 987

Nuggets coach hopes opening night is the start of something big

George Karl’s return to the bench couldn’t have gone much better.

In his first regular-season game since overcoming throat cancer, the Nuggets coach received a rousing ovation from a sellout Pepsi Center crowd Wednesday night and then watched his team start the 2010-11 season with a wire-to-wire 110-88 victory over Northwest Division-rival Utah.

“I don’t know if there was one moment (that stood out) other than just the appreciation of the players,” Karl said. “I told the players before the game that their friendship and their togetherness over the summer helped me want to get back.

“I also told them they’re a special team and it’s an honor and a privilege to try to be a special team in this league. ‘To coach one is my privilege and for you to play on one is your privilege.’ We showed a lot of good stuff.”

The Nuggets jumped out to a 9-0 lead and the Jazz were never within less than 10 points after the 9:09 mark of the second quarter. It was easier than Karl expected as he earned career win No. 987.

“My hope is that it’s the beginning of a 50-win season and getting back to being a premier team in the Western Conference,” Karl said. “I still am amazed at the soothsayers that say we’re not very good. I think we’re pretty good.”

Karl was diagnosed with a form of head and neck cancer last January but remained on the bench as long as he could while undergoing grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He left the team after Denver’s March 16 home win and missed the final 14 games of the regular season and the playoffs.

Doctors cleared him to return to his normal coaching duties this summer and Nuggets fans and cancer survivors worldwide have showered him with words, e-mails and letters of support.

“All I know is the outpouring of so many good thoughts and good spirit has been really unbelievable,” Karl said before the game. “It gets so overwhelming that you’re not sure you’re deserving of it.”

Aaron Lopez
Aaron J. Lopez is the primary writer for Nuggets.com, providing behind-the-scenes content, including feature stories and video for the site. Before joining the Nuggets in 2009, he spent 15 years covering Colorado sports for the Rocky Mountain News and the Associated Press, making him one of the longest-tenured sports writers in Denver. Read Aaron's full bio...

Contact Aaron at alopez@pepsicenter.com