GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Donnie Walsh knows what it's like to get the call from the doctor. He knows all too well the way one's stomach drops when you hear the words, "You have cancer."
So though the Knicks president hasn't talked with his friend, George Karl, since Karl was diagnosed with throat cancer last month, he has some idea of what Karl has been going through.
"There's that initial, terrible scare," said Walsh, who was treated for tongue cancer in 2008. "But then you start seeing the right people and you realize that you can get through this."
Karl, the coach of the Denver Nuggets, will not be at Madison Square Garden for tonight's game against the Knicks. It is the eighth game that the coach has missed since announcing on Feb. 16 that he had been diagnosed with a "very treatable and curable" form of neck and throat cancer.
Team spokesman Tim Gelt said in an e-mail Monday that the team is not sure when he will return to the bench. Karl, according to the Nuggets' Web site, is undergoing a 45-day regimen of radiation and chemotherapy. Karl, 58, had been cancer- free since undergoing surgery for prostate cancer in 2005.
Walsh and Karl both played basketball at North Carolina. Walsh was a coach at South Carolina when Karl played for the Tar Heels and their paths have crossed repeatedly over the course of their careers. Walsh has left messages for Karl, letting him know that he is thinking of him, but the two have not spoken since Karl's diagnosis.
Walsh, 69, said he never will forget the day he was told he had cancer.
"It scared the life out of me," he said. "It was in my tongue. I thought they were going to cut out half my tongue. I thought if they were going to do that to me, I was going to leave, go to Indiana and go to my backyard and never go out again."
Walsh said it was very difficult for someone who eats, sleeps and drinks basketball to step away from the game to take care of himself. With his doctor's blessing, he put off his tongue surgery until after the 2008 draft.
Karl, whose team is 47-23 and has the second-best record in the Western Conference, didn't have the option of putting off treatment. In his absence, the Nuggets have a 5-2 record under acting head coach Adrian Dantley.
Said Walsh: "It's hard to step away in the middle of the season, but he's got to do what he's got to do. They have a very good team and he's a very good coach, so everything is in place for them to play well while he's gone."