The Sixth Man (cont.)
With Nuggets coach George Karl. For two seasons, Karl was coach of the Spanish club Real Madrid. On Dec. 3, 1989, Real center Fernando Martin died at age 27 in a car accident. He had been the first Spaniard to play in the NBA (for a brief time with the Trail Blazers) and had helped lead Spain to the silver medal in the 1984 Olympics.
"I coached a team that throughout the world is more well-known than any sport team in America,'' Karl said. "Real Madrid is known for its soccer more than for its basketball, but it's still the No. 1 team in terms of European championships in basketball. Two summers ago, I went back to Madrid and had a reunion with a lot of my players and my coaches and it was a wonderful experience. I wish I would have filmed it. Spanish players are so passionate, and we had the experience of Fernando Martin being killed while I was there, and so the fiber of that experience is always going to be with four or five of those guys.
"I still remember the dinner after his funeral, when we had to play a game that night. In Europe, they have wine on the table [at team pregame meals]. And some of the guys drink it, but normally they don't drink it. Well, we drank it that day. This is like 3 p.m. for an 8 p.m. game. I mean, the emotion at the table -- guys were tearing up, crying, and a couple of the guys almost got in a fight with each other.
"That night was the greatest game I ever coached. We were down 14 [points] to PAOK [a Greek club] at halftime. You have to understand, Antonio Martin was one of my better players -- Fernando's brother was on the team. Antonio was one of the best Spanish players, and he played that game but he was all messed up.
"Down 14 at halftime, there wasn't much said. Basically the only thing I said was, 'Fernando thinks you're a bunch of [wussies]. I said that because Fernando was a tough S.O.B. Fernando wasn't a very good player, but he was a totally S.O.B. guy.
"At the 14-minute mark of the second half, we were up 21 points. We were down 14 at the half, and we're up 21 in six minutes.
"The game was in Madrid, and the emotion afterward -- I still think it should be a movie. After the games in Europe you can chant the team back onto the court; sometimes the team will go off, and then the crowd will start chanting something to bring them back out. Well, for this game the mom [of Martin] is in the presidential box. And the chant is, Fernando esta aqui, Fernando esta aqui -- Fernando is here. And his mother is leading it. It gives me goose bumps today.
"So the players come back onto the court. And Fernando's mother is up there. And they all take different routes through the crowd to get to the mother. And they're running through the crowd up through and in the background, and it takes about two or three minutes until they finally get to the mother, and they all are now in the presidential box chanting with the crowd, Fernando esta aqui, Fernando esta aqui. It was very incredible.''
Last month following the death of Carmelo Anthony's sister, Karl was drawn back to the mourning of his Spanish player.
"I sent 'Melo some texts,'' Karl said. "I'm not very good with death, and I said that to him. I said, 'All I know is somewhere along the way, celebrate [her life]. The first time I ever realized a spirit toward death was with Fernando. Fernando died, and there was a Russian tradition, an Orthodox tradition, about going and having a picnic at the grave site six months later. And I was invited to that. You bring 10 people, and you just get smashed and you tell Fernando stories. The guy who introduced me to this told me the tradition is you've got to celebrate. You've got to let it go and let the celebration begin.''
My All-Star ballot. Wireless voting concludes Jan. 23 and the starters will be announced Jan. 27. The reserves (to be selected by coaches) will be revealed Feb. 3.
C Dwight Howard, Magic
F Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks
F LeBron James, Heat
G Dwyane Wade, Heat
G Derrick Rose, Bulls
C Al Horford, Hawks
F Carlos Boozer, Bulls
F Kevin Garnett, Celtics
F Paul Pierce, Celtics (need a small forward)
G Rajon Rondo, Celtics
G Raymond Felton, Knicks
G Ray Allen, Celtics
STAND-INS (in case of injury)
C Andrew Bogut, Bucks
F Chris Bosh, Heat; Josh Smith, Hawks
G Joe Johnson, Hawks
C Nene, Nuggets
F Pau Gasol, Lakers
F Kevin Durant, Thunder
G Kobe Bryant, Lakers
G Deron Williams, Jazz
F Kevin Love, Timberwolves
F Blake Griffin, Clippers
F Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
F Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
G Chris Paul, Hornets
G Russell Westbrook, Thunder
G Manu Ginobili, Spurs
STAND-INS (in case of injury)
F Tim Duncan, Spurs (if Duncan were listed on the ballot at center, he'd start for the West); Zach Randolph, Grizzlies
G Tony Parker, Spurs; Steve Nash, Suns; Monta Ellis, Warriors