“Had Died in a Car Crash”: George Karl Recalls Real Madrid Star’s Tragic Demise on 34th Death Anniversary

Published 12/05/2023, 5:15 AM EST

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In 1989, Hall of Famer George Karl became the head coach of Real Madrid of Liga ACB. Madrid had high hopes of winning that season with their star player, Fernando Martín Espina, who was the first Spanish player to play in the NBA. As the team continued to gel together, Fernando surprisingly didn’t turn up for a game. Unfortunately, the Spanish star center had passed away in a car crash while heading to the event.

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As it was Fernando’s 34th death anniversary yesterday, George Karl shared his experience coaching for Real Madrid in memory of his former player. Karl posted a couple of tweets talking about dealing with the loss of his star player.

He wrote, “I was 40 years old with a young family in a foreign country. I had been fired from two coaching in the NBA. We were just learning the culture and language in Spain with Real Madrid when, on Dec 3rd 1989, our best player didn’t show up for the game.” He then explained why Martin didn’t show up.

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“Fernando Martin, a Superman of sorts, had died in a car crash on the way to the event. We were all stunned. Shocked. Those next three days, composing myself and our team and the country even, were some of the most challenging of my life,” Karl reminisced.

The former Denver Nuggets coach got emotional while admitting he missed him. “Today is the 34th anniversary of Fernando’s passing. I think of him and that day all the time. I miss him and I miss my friends in Spain – my time there was the greatest adventure of my life. It made me a better coach and a better person. #HalaMadrid”

The 72-year-old is happy for the time that he spent in Madrid, as this helped him become a better coach and, more importantly, a better person, which he used to transform his position in the NBA.

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Karl was a great NBA coach

Although he was never able to win the ultimate title, he is one of 10 coaches to have over 1,000 wins in the NBA. But he had to learn how to lead a team. In his early career as a coach, Karl was let go from two head coaching positions in the NBA in a span of five years. That was when he decided to go overseas. But after his return from Real Madrid, he went on to have an incredible career.

He is most remembered for his time with the Seattle Supersonics, whom he guided to the NBA Finals in 1996. He coached in Denver for 8 years, before moving to the Sacramento Kings for a year. Karl last worked in the NBA in 2016. Since then, he has stepped away from the game because of health concerns.

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What do you think of George Karl’s time with Real Madrid? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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Written by:

Rijin Varghese

687Articles

One take at a time

I did not follow the traditional route to become a journalist, but my love for basketball and writing has brought me here. Seeing LeBron James? Cleveland Cavaliers make the iconic comeback from a 1-3 deficit in 2016 changed everything for a young engineering aspirant within me. Rather than simply looking at the game, I love to analyze how each player contributes to a team using BPM (Box Plus Minus) and other advanced metrics.
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Edited by:

Pragya Vashisth

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