George Karl, as a former North Carolina Tar Heel, should've known better than to anger Michael Jordan. Yet during the 1996 NBA Finals, that's exactly what he did. When the two happened to find themselves at the same restaurant in Seattle, Karl Bulls went on to defeat the Sonics in six games, with Jordan citing Karl's slight as an extra bit of motivation in "The Last Dance."Jordan's presence. The
But Karl stands by the decision. On an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio, Karl claimed that he told his entire team not to socialize with Jordan, and was only living up to his own word.
"I didn't know it would be that much of a big deal."— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) May 11, 2020
Former Sonics Head Coach George Karl tells @TheFrankIsola why he didn't acknowledge Michael Jordan at a restaurant during the 96 Finals.
🔊Hear the full interview tomorrow morning on The Starting Lineup! pic.twitter.com/zpeaxMkZYV
"We take it to the team that we don't want any socializing with Michael Jordan," Karl said. "I have Sam Perkins on my team that played with Michael. I told Sam, I said 'Sam, if you want to socialize with him, do it before the series starts and get it over with, and then from the first game through whenever it ends, we are S.O.B competitors just like he is.' So I advised not only Sam, I advised my whole team, we've gotta compete with Michael's intensity and Rodman's craziness and the physicality of the game, and we've gotta be the aggressive team as much as possible.
So after that speech, I run into Michael, and I'm sitting here going, 'if I go see Michael, I'm breaking the code with my team. If I don't go see Michael, he's probably gonna use it, that I stiffed him.' I didn't know that it would be that much of a big deal, but I think I made the right call. I had to stay by the code that I gave my team."
In truth, there probably wasn't anything Karl could've done off of the floor that would've swung the outcome of this series. Had he socialized with Jordan, it not only would have betrayed his team, but it could have softened him. During the 1993 NBA Finals, Jordan bought Charles Barkley a $20,000 diamond earring for that exact purpose.
The real adjustment should have come on the court. Karl didn't allow Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton to defend Jordan until Game 4, when the Sonics were already trailing 3-0., and had he made the switch earlier, Seattle might have been able to pull off the upset. As he didn't, moments like these get etched into history as yet another instance of an opponent motivating Jordan.