While a dozen rival teams were frantically unloading the contracts of unwanted players at the NBA trade deadline last week, the Denver Nuggets literally had more life-and-death concerns. The team was rallying around coach George Karl, who was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in four years. With his players alongside, the 58-year-old Karl revealed at a Feb. 16 press conference that he was embarking on a six-week course of radiation and chemotherapy to treat squamous cell neck-and-throat cancer. "My desire is to do whatever I can to stay with my team throughout the treatment," Karl said while struggling to maintain composure. Between now and the end of the season assistant Adrian Dantley is expected to sub for Karl as required.
Karl received the diagnosis in late January. A two-inch lump was discovered on his throat during a routine exam on Dec. 30. He'll receive five days of radiation per week over a span of six weeks. In 2005 Karl underwent treatment for prostate cancer. "The doctors are very hopeful and confident that it is a curable and treatable disease," said Karl of his current bout with cancer. "I don't think I'm a guy that needs sympathy, but I do need support."
Though he has been known to employ divisive criticism of his players over his 22-year career with five franchises, Karl's Nuggets show no signs of disharmony. With forward Carmelo Anthony averaging 29.2 points, Denver (37--19 at week's end, the second-best record in the West) is positioning itself for a conference finals rematch against the defending champion Lakers. Last week, though, Karl's condition was the team's primary concern. "You never want to see someone close to you go through a situation like this," Anthony told SI. "We want him here with us, but he's got to take care of his health and family first.