In the summer of 1987, in sunny San Jose, California, the George Karl Basketball Camp brought together young aspiring players for an unforgettable experience. Led by the renowned Coach George Karl, head coach of the Golden State Warriors at the time, the camp aimed to be an exceptional and lasting memory for the young participants.
As the camp director, my responsibility was to ensure the campers’ safety and organization while orchestrating skill-building drills, competitions, and fun activities. Since it was a sleepover camp, I also took charge of their well-being, making sure they had enough rest and meals throughout the day.
Having worked with basketball legends like Magic Johnson and renowned coaches like John Wooden and Pat Riley in the past, I was confident in my ability to deliver a positive and enriching experience to young players. However, Coach Karl had a unique vision for making the camp truly memorable.
During our first meeting, Coach Karl challenged me to create an experience that would stay with the campers for the next 25 years. Intrigued, I eagerly embraced the challenge, confident in my ability to meet his expectations.
The first day of camp went smoothly, but when I asked Coach Karl for his feedback, he deemed it “good but not memorable.” Perplexed, I asked for his guidance, and he devised a clever plan. That night, we gathered all the campers’ shoes, tied them together, and hung them high over the basketball hoops. The next morning, the campers had to work together to retrieve their shoes, leading to laughter and camaraderie among them.
But Coach Karl wasn’t finished. On day two, we woke the campers up three hours earlier than usual, pretending it was morning. When they realized it was still dark outside, they returned to their rooms to sleep a bit longer, creating a funny and surprising twist to their morning routine.
On day three, the campers had the privilege of meeting the star player, Chris Mullin, which added to the excitement. Yet, Coach Karl wanted to do something extra special. He handed me $50 to purchase a bunch of large super soaker squirt guns. That evening, Coach Karl and some staff members playfully soaked the campers, leading to a chaotic but joyous time before bedtime.
The final day arrived, and the camp ran brilliantly. As Coach Karl stood before the campers, staff, and parents for the closing ceremony, a daring camper surprised everyone by dousing Coach Karl with an ice-cold Gatorade jug. The sight was priceless, and it broke the tension, causing laughter and cheers from all. Coach Karl’s response was heartwarming, declaring that fun had finally arrived and that the camp had become truly memorable.
Three decades have passed since that unforgettable summer, and the memories of that camp still bring a smile to my face. The lesson I learned from Coach Karl remains etched in my heart: the real value of sports lies in creating lasting and cherished memories. As the CEO and Founder of the National Academy of Athletics, I carry this valuable lesson with me, striving to make every camp a truly memorable experience for each participant.
In the pictures taken at the camp, Coach Karl and I are seen playfully fooling around, reflecting the spirit of joy and camaraderie he encouraged throughout the entire experience. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Coach Karl for imparting this invaluable lesson on how to make life unforgettable, both on and off the basketball court.
-Aaron Locks, CEO & Founder of The National Academy of Athletics