Sprewell, Latrell 1970–
Latrell Sprewell 1970–
Professional basketball player
Latrell Sprewell, a rising NBA star, would be known more for his off-court antics than his basketball skill in the 1990s. Though his basketball career began late, he quickly rose through the ranks to become a top-notched player. With the jury still out, only time will tell whether Sprewell will make it to the Hall of Fame or Hall of Shame.
Sprewell was born on September 8, 1970 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Soon after he was born the family moved from Milwaukee to Flint, Michigan. When Sprewell was a sophomore in high school, his parents, Pamela Sprewell and Latoska Field, separated and Sprewell moved back to Milwaukee with his mother. It was not until his senior year of high school that the man who would become an NBA All Star even took up the game seriously. James Gordon, the basketball coach at Washington High, saw Sprewell in the hall and invited him to try out for the team. Despite having no experience playing in a system, Sprewell made the team and ended up averaging 28 points per game. Because of his inexperience, he was not recruited very highly. He enrolled at Three Rivers Junior College and spent two years developing his game at the junior college level. Sprewell transferred to Alabama where he developed a reputation for being a hard worker and a defensive stopper. Sprewell averaged 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.8 steals in his senior year and was named to the All-Southeastern Conference team. In what would be a common theme throughout his career, he led the Southeastern Conference in minutes played with 36.2 points per game. In his final year in college Sprewell put together a solid season, but he was still not well known. The Golden State Warriors were about to change that.
The Warriors made Sprewell the 24th pick of the 1992 NBA draft. Sprewell became a starter at shooting guard almost instantly. Though almost no one knew who he was before the season, he quickly changed that situation during his rookie year when he was named to the second team of the 1992-93 NBA All-Rookie Team. Sprewell became the first rookie in Warriors history to amass 1,000 points, 250 rebounds, 250 assists, 100 steals, and 50 blocks in a season. He also led his team in minutes played with 2,741.
At a Glance…
Born Latrell Sprewell, September 8, 1970 in Milwaukee, Wl; son of Pamela Sprewell and Latoska Field; children: Aquilla, Page, and Latrell II. Education: attended Three Rivers Junior College and Alabama University.
Career: Golden State Warriors, guard, 1992-97; waived by the Warriors and suspended, 1997-1998; traded to the New York Knicks, 1999; Knicks, 1999-.
Awards; All Southeastern Conference team, 1992; NBA All-Rookie second team, 1993; NBA All-Star participant, 1994-95, 1997; All-NBA team, 1993.
If his first season was a success his second season established Sprewell as a prime time player. With several of his teammates injured throughout the season, Sprewell carried the team. At the All-Star break he led the Warriors in scoring with 22 points a game and led the NBA with a staggering 44.8 minutes played per game. Though he was not on the All-Star ballot, Western Conference coaches thought so highly of the second-year player that he was named as a reserve to the All-Star game. He finished the season averaging 21 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.2 steals per game. At the age of 23 Sprewell was selected to the All-NBA First Team. He also ended up playing 3,533 total minutes, the most by an NBA player in 16 years.
The 1994-95 season marked a turning point in Sprewell’s career. The Warriors traded two marquee players, Billy Owens and Chris Webber, who were close friends of Sprewell. The team was making their third-year guard the centerpiece of its program. His third season in the NBA also marked the first time Sprewell entered the public eye for an incident unrelated to basketball. Sprewell’s daughter, Page, was bitten several times in the face and ears by one of his pitbulls. Sprewell later told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, “That stuff happens.” Despite the off-court distraction, Sprewell turned in another good season. Sprewell returned to start in the All-Star game and led the Warriors in minutes-played and in scoring with 20.6 points per game. Still he found it difficult to forgive his club for trading his friends and was suspended twice during the season for conduct detrimental to the team.
Sprewell opened the 1995-96 season with much of the controversy of the previous year behind him. His former coach and general manager Don Nelson, with whom he had feuded, was gone. Sprewell again led his team in scoring, steals, and minutes played, but the Warriors failed to make the playoffs and the club’s star guard missed the All-Star game. Still management felt good enough about Sprewell, despite his sometimes petulant behavior with coaches and teammates, to sign him to a huge new contract, a four-year deal worth $32 million. Sprewell’s 1996-97 season seemed to justify the team’s decision. Sprewell finished fifth in the league in scoring with a 24.2 points per game average and scored in double figures in 78 of his 80 games. Aside from his scoring, he also led the team in minutes averaging 41.9 minutes per game, three-pointers, and tied for the team lead in steals. Sprewell made it back to the All-Star game as a coach’s selection and led the Western Conference team in scoring with 19 points.
Despite Sprewell’s individual accomplishments, the team floundered and a new coach was brought in. PJ Carlisimo had a reputation as being very tough on his players, and he and Sprewell immediately clashed. Early in the season there were signs that Sprewell would have conflicts with his coach. In November Sprewell was benched during a game for laughing during a timeout when the Warriors were losing badly. According to various sources, including Sports Illustrated’ s Phil Taylor, he called his coach “a (expletive) joke.” He was thrown out of practice two days later and then was fined for failing to arrive in time before a game at Utah. The climate was ripe for a physical confrontation, especially since the team was playing poorly and Sprewell wanted to be traded. On December 1, the team was practicing and Sprewell was doing a drill with teammate Mugsy Bogues. Carlisimo then told Sprewell to “put some mustard on those passes,” according to Taylor of Sports Illustrated. Sprewell told Carlisimo “I don’t want to hear it today.” Carlisimo came up to Sprewell who told the coach, “Don’t come up on me.” Carlisimo continued to approach the player who then said “I’ll kill you” and began to choke the coach. On ESPN’s Up Close program Sprewell explained to host Chris Myers what happened: “It wasn’t a choke. I grabbed him, and I’m saying if you’re being choked you’re not just going to sit there and know you’re about to die and not do anything. You’re going to respond in some way.” Teammates pulled him off Carlisimo, Sprewell was escorted off the court, took a shower, got dressed, and came back out on the floor after about ten minutes. Then there was another physical confrontation. Sprewell told ESPN’s Meyers about the second incident: “I didn’t hit him … I wanted to go in there to tell him to get me out of there, that I didn’t want to be a part of the Warriors organization. I was really frustrated, and I had enough. But I didn’t go out there to attack P.J. or punch him.” Other witnesses testified that Sprewell did punch the coach.
The fallout from the incident was immediate and intense with fans loudly calling for serious consequences for Sprewell. The Warriors suspended Sprewell for ten days initially, and then after two more days terminated his contract, which had $25 million remaining. Sprewell also lost his shoe contract with Converse. NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended him for one year whereby he could not be paid by any NBA team. It was the first time in NBA history that a player’s contract was cancelled for insubordination. Warriors’ general manager Garry St. Jean’s statement to Newsweek indicated how Sprewell was being held up as a symbol for all that was wrong with professional athletes: “This is a clear matter of right and wrong. There is no issue to compromise. Outrageous conduct by players in pro sports has been tolerated for too long. We are drawing the line.” Sprewell publicly apologized to his fans and his family, but not to Carlisimo (though his agent claimed he called his ex-coach). Two days after Sprewell was fired, the players association filed a grievance against the NBA and the Warriors that eventually led to arbitration hearings. By the end of January 1998, less than two months after the initial incident, arbitration hearings were under way in Portland, Oregon with Fordham law professor John Feerick serving as the arbitrator. Twenty one witnesses testified before Feerick who concluded that the Warriors could not terminate Sprewell’s contract and reduced the NBA suspension from one full year to the rest of the 1997-98 season. Unfortunately for Sprewell, three days before the decision he was involved in a car accident and was charged with reckless driving. Prosecutors were promising jail time for Sprewell and Court TV, hoping to capitalize on the player’s notoriety, promised gavel to gavel coverage of the trial. Sprewell later settled out of court and was sentenced to three months home detention, placed on two years of probation, fined $1,000, and ordered not to own a gun.
Two months after his reinstatement Sprewell filed a lawsuit against the NBA and the Warriors accusing the league of civil rights and anti-trust violations and asking for $30 million in damages. The lawsuit was dismissed on July 30 by a federal judge, but Sprewell continued to pursue the matter. He refiled his lawsuit claiming that NBA officials shredded evidence that would be helpful to his case. Sprewell then sued his ex-agent Arn Telen, who had defended his client throughout the whole ordeal, for not protecting the star guard from suspension when negotiating his contract. Perhaps worse than all the litigation, NBA players had been locked out by the owners and the labor dispute became more bitter by the day. Sprewell was left in limbo despite the fact that he was cleared to play by the arbitrator’s decision.
Just when it seemed that the 1998-99 NBA season would be cancelled, in January a collective bargaining agreement was signed between the players and the owners. There were rumors that Sprewell would be traded to Miami and Houston, but the New York Knicks would be his new team. On January 21, 1999 Sprewell was traded from the Warriors to the Knicks for John Starks, Chris Mills, and Terry Cummings.
The next day Sprewell met with NBA commissioner David Stern for fifteen to twenty minutes, apologized for his behavior, and vowed to control his anger. Stern officially reinstated Sprewell and cleared the way for him to join the Knicks. In his introductory press conference an apologetic Sprewell told the Associated Press and the other assembled media: “I’m out to start all over and show people the real me. PJ is not a bad guy, and I’m here to show you guys that I’m not either… I’m sorry. We all make mistakes. I made one, I said I’m sorry about that and I’m asking for a second chance. I’m not the person I’ve been portrayed to be.” Sprewell was welcomed by his new coach Jeff Van Gundy, his Knicks teammates, and even the fans at Madison Square Garden. In his first game as a Knick, Sprewell jumped out of the gate with a game-high 24 points against the Orlando Magic on February fifth. His season was temporarily derailed because of a stress fracture in his right heel, which caused him to miss 13 games. Sprewell and the Knicks lumbered through the shortened season and almost cost their coach his job until the team was finally able to secure the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks stunned the top-seeded Miami Heat and then stormed through Atlanta and Indiana to reach the NBA finals. Sprewell’s minutes continued to rise going from 31.8 minutes per game in the first round to 44.2 minutes per game in the NBA finals. Sprewell’s points per game also increased from 16.2 against Miami to 26 against the Spurs in the championship series. Though the Knicks lost in five games, the team and its most controversial player made great strides. Despite his outstanding season many are still unsure about Sprewell-especially his critics in the press. After the season there were rumors that Sprewell was having problems with Van Gundy, which the intensely private point guard did little to quiet. Perhaps the public will not know him until after seeing him over the course of his whole career. Or perhaps no one will ever know the real Latrell Sprewell.
Newsweek, March 16, 1998.
The San Francisco Examiner, July 28, 1998.
Sports Illustrated, February 21, 1994; December 15, 1997.
—Michael J. Watkins
American basketball player
Latrell Sprewell, a gutsy floor leader, became an unexpected, and at times highly unpopular, star in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He did not play organized basketball until he was a senior in high school, and his college play, although outstanding, drew little recognition. Even after posting stellar numbers as a rookie playing for the Golden State Warriors in 1992, few people knew who he was. That all changed on December 1, 1997 when he twice attacked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, during practice.
The Back Roads to the NBA
Latrell Sprewell was born on September 8, 1970 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a young child Sprewell's parents, Pamela Sprewell and Latoska Field, moved the family to Flint, Michigan. When his parents separated during Sprewell's sophomore year in high school, he moved back to Milwaukee with his mother, where he attended Washington High School. Sprewell did not play organized basketball until his senior year, when he was approached by the basketball coach in the hallway and invited to try out for the team. Not only did Sprewell make the team, he scored an average of twenty-eight points per game.
With only one, albeit impressive, year of high school experience, Sprewell had little name recognition and was not highly recruited by colleges. As a result, he enrolled in Three Rivers Junior College, where he played junior college ball for the next two years. Earning a reputation as a hard worker and defensive specialist, Sprewell was invited to transfer to the University of Alabama, where he played his last two years of college eligibility. During his senior year he averaged 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds,
and 1.8 steals per game. Despite being named to the All-Southeastern Conference team, Sprewell entered the 1992 NBA draft without much fanfare.
Selected by the Golden State Warriors as the twenty-fourth pick of the draft, Sprewell made an impressive start during his rookie season. He became the first rookie in Golden State's history to accumulate 1,000 points, 250 rebounds, 250 assists, 100 steals, and fifty blocks in a season. He also led his team in minutes played with 2,741. His efforts earned him a place on the second team of the 1993 NBA All-Rookie Team. In his second season with Golden State, Sprewell continued to excel, finishing the 1993-94 season with a per-game average of twenty-one points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 2.2 steals. He was named to the 1994 All-NBA First Team.
A Tarnished Reputation
During the 1994-95 season, Sprewell, who was having trouble forgiving the Warriors' management for trading away friends Chris Webber and Billy Owens, was twice suspended during the season for conduct deemed detrimental to the team. Yet, because his play on the court remained impressive, the Warriors agreed to a four-year contract in 1996 worth $32 million. During the 1996-97 season, Sprewell averaged over twenty-four points per game and was the Western Conference's leading scorer in the 1996 NBA All-Star game, with nineteen points. Despite Sprewell's efforts, the Warriors were floundering badly at the beginning of the 1997-98 season, and Sprewell's frustration erupted into a career altering confrontation with his coach, P.J. Carlesimo.
Sprewell did not react positively to Carlesimo's in-your-face coaching style and made known openly his lack of respect for his coach. Carlesimo benched Sprewell during a blowout against the Los Angeles Lakers early in the season because Sprewell refused to stop laughing during a timeout. Two days after that incident, Sprewell was tossed out of practice for ignoring Carlesimo's instructions. Then in November, Sprewell was fined for missing the arrival deadline for a game. Two days later during practice, after being reprimanded for his lackluster effort, Sprewell physically attacked Carlesimo when the coach tried to approach him. Reportedly Sprewell grabbed Carlesimo by the throat, demanded to be traded, and threatened to kill him if he wasn't. Pulled off by other players, Sprewell removed himself to the locker room but returned to the court fifteen minutes later and once again lunged at Carlesimo, this time punching him in the neck, a charge the Sprewell later denied.
Initially the team responded to the incident by suspending Sprewell for ten games, but then decided to terminate his $32 million contract for failing to abide by the basic conduct clause of the player agreement. After losing the last three years of a contract valued at nearly $25 million, Sprewell was then suspended from basketball for one year by NBA Commissioner David Stern. Sprewell also lost an endorsement contract with Converse. After the NBA players' association filed a grievance on behalf of Sprewell, arguing that the punishment was too harsh, the matter went before an arbitrator who eventually ruled that the Warriors could not terminate Sprewell's contract and reduced the suspension to the remainder of the 1997-98.
|1970||Born September 8 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin|
|1987-88||First plays organized basketball as a senior at Washington High School in Milwaukee; averages 28 points per game|
|1988-90||Plays junior college ball at Three Rivers Junior College|
|1990-92||Plays basketball for the University of Alabama|
|1992||Selected as the 24th pick in the National Basketball Association draft by the Golden State Warriors|
|1997||Attacks coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice; contract is terminated and suspension for one year is invoked by the NBA|
|1998||Arbitration leads to team reinstatement and a reduction in the NBA suspension; arrested for reckless driving|
|1999||Traded to the New York Knicks|
Sprewell did not help redeem his image when he was arrested three days before the arbitration decision for reckless driving, after being in a car accident that injured two people. In an out-of-court settlement, Sprewell was fined $1,000 and sentenced to three months home detention and two years probation. Although he apologized publicly to fans and supporters for his behavior, Sprewell did not allow the matter to drop. He filed suit against the NBA for anti-trust and civil rights violations, suing the league for $30 million; however, the suit was thrown out in July of 1998 by a federal judge.
A New Start in New York
Cleared to return to the court for the 1998-99 season, Sprewell remained sidelined by a players' strike that lasted until January 1999, at which time he was traded from the Warriors to the New York Knicks. Joining the Knicks gave Sprewell a much-needed chance to redeem himself and his career. In his first game in a Knicks uniform, Sprewell scored a game-high twenty-four points. As the Knicks continued to win, memories of Sprewell's past altercations began to fade from the public mind. He became a popular player in New York and the team's emotional leader, helping his team reach the 1999 NBA championship series, which the Knicks lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
During the next three seasons, Sprewell averaged 18.6 points per game for the Knicks, despite the team's downward spiral in the league standings. Although he continues to incur occasional fines for being late or absent from required team functions, Sprewell quietly pays his fines. The final chapter of his career has yet to be written. Whether history will judge him as a misunderstood nice guy who tries to mind his own business for the most part or yet one more overpaid egomaniacal professional athlete remains to be seen.
|GS: Golden State Warriors; NY: New York Knicks.|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1992||Named All Southeastern Conference; twenty-fourth overall pick in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft by the Golden State Warriors|
|1993||Named NBA All Rookie Second Team|
|1994||Named All NBA First Team and All Defensive Second Team|
|1994-95, 1997||Named NBA All Star|
Address: New York Knicks, Two Pennsylvania Plaza, New York, New York 10121. Phone: (212) 465-5867.
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Sketch by Kari Bethel