Volume 1, Number 3.1
I wonder how it must feel to be the most hated man in America right now. I wonder what it's like to wake up every day to a morning paper filled with anti-me articles and end every day with a newscast led off with the latest anti-me report. I wonder what it's like, in other words, to be Latrell Sprewell.
I also wonder if he yet realizes that he's bumbled into the best career move of his professional career.
Think about it. Latrell Sprewell was in, for him, an unbearable situation in Golden State. He was locked into a long-term deal with a franchise which clearly has no notion whatsoever of how to build a competitive NBA team (a point demonstrated, ironically enough, by their decision to sign Sprewell to a long term contract). He was stuck with a coach who hated him, and whom he hated in return. He was far and away the best player on the team and therefore expected to shoulder the bulk of the scoring burden, yet was vilified by the fans and the media for taking too many shots. He was actively being offered to all takers but due to salary cap restraints and his own diminished trade stock (due to his own actions), the Warriors were unable, and unlikely, to find a taker. Things had gotten so bad for Sprewell that he even offered to walk away from the remainder of his four-year, $32 million salary if the Warriors would simply release him and let him sign on with another team.
So where does Sprewell find himself now? Assuming the punishments handed down by the Warriors and NBA Commissioner David Stern withstand legal challenges, Sprewell will have lost the aforementioned $32 million contract and will not be allowed to sign on with another team until after the 1997-98 season, and will not be allowed to play until December 4, 1998.
In other words, worst case scenario, Latrell Sprewell will return to the court a very rich man in the uniform of his choosing not later than December 4, 1998. He will have gotten exactly what he wanted from the Warriors: Out.
In fact, if the Sprewell's legal Dream Team headed by Johnnie Cochrane gets their way, Sprewell will be back in the uniform of his choice this season, though he may have to settle for the league minimum to do so.
Do you hear me? After choking and threatening to kill his boss, Latrell Sprewell will, not later than one year from now, be back in the NBA, making millions of dollars, possibly even more than the Warriors were paying, and playing for any team he wants. How does that sound for a punishment? Take a year off, then get a pay raise and play alongside Michael Jordan or David Robinson or Shaquille O'Neal.
What's that, from way in the back there? You ask if any team would be willing to take a chance on Sprewell after an incident like this? Let us pause for a moment while the laughter from all those GM's out there dies down a bit.
There. Now, to answer your question, let me put it this way: If OJ Simpson could dunk a basketball, NBA teams would be lining up to throw wads of money at him. In fact, (and this shows you how management-types think) the consensus feeling is that this incident actually will make Sprewell a safer bet. That there is no way Sprewell lets this happen again. Of course, you and I know that this is the same line real estate agents use to sell people homes in Tornado Alley, but the point is, when the time comes, Sprewell will get all the money he needs and then some. Ditto for the endorsement contract Sprewell had yanked out from under him. Once he's on the floor again and kids are lining up for his autograph, the shoe companies will again come calling.
So, does this mean Sprewell is getting off easy? Possibly. If you ask me, the answer is yes, but understand that this is not a situation that can be summed up simply with an "If I did that..." comparison. As much as I hate to side with Sprewell's guns for hire, they do have a point when they say that if Joe Lunchbucket doesn't like the way his boss treats him, he can quit. Sprewell did not have such a luxury. Granted, he did have other options by which to file a grievance and did not use them. But understand, Sprewell does not live in a world where one gets angry and files a grievance. In professional sports, when one gets angry, one's fists fly. Not an excuse, not a justification, just a fact.
Of course, this is not to suggest that Sprewell's punishment is too severe. On the contrary, I think it is entirely appropriate, indeed necessary in a league which is increasingly run by the stars, to protect the authority figure, the coach. And when Arn Tellum, Sprewell's agent, labels the NBA a "monopoly" and calls their punishment an attempt to deprive his client of his "constitutional right to work", I nearly double over in laughter.
So is this a horrifying miscarriage of justice? Is the Bad Guy getting off scott-free?
No. And I say this only because, unlike you, I have correctly identified the "Bad Guy". Sprewell did a bad thing, but that does not make him the "Bad Guy" per se. Sprewell was a loaded gun and should not have been left out to do the damage he did. Punish him accordingly for his actions, but do not ignore the responsibility which is to be shared by the true "Bad Guy".
Carlesimo, you say? Nice try, but no. You do not have to like Carlesimo's coaching philosophy but you have to admit it works, as his record will attest, most of the time. The guy has to motivate multimillionaire crybabies who think the sun sets in their own underpants. You got a better idea, you give me a call.
Understand that PJ was placed in an impossible situation. He inherited a troubled program from a "hugs and kisses" coach (Rick Adelman) who subscribed to the "Dr. Spock" school of player motivation. He was brought specifically to "crack the whip" and get the Warriors shaped up. By getting up in Sprewell's face, Carlesimo was doing exactly what he had been hired to do. And when you realize this, you realize who is really to blame for the entire ongoing fiasco that did not begin when Sprewell attacked Carlesimo, it culminated.
Warriors management tossed a match (Carlesimo) into a gas tank (Sprewell) and ran for cover when it mysteriously exploded. They convinced Sprewell to sign a long-term deal to play for Adelmen, then fired Adelman and brought in Carlesimo. They bypassed several opportunities to trade the star, citing a need to receive "value for value". Finally, when the defecation finally hit the rotary oscillator, they "fired" Sprewell and got nothing in return.
So again I ask, did the Bad Guy get off scot free? No, Sprewell will serve his punishment and come back richer and happier than ever. Carlesimo will try his level best to turn a losing franchise around and possibly even succeed, but even if he fails it will be understood that it was the organization, not he, who failed. And the Warriors, minus their main attraction, will remain the sorry, pathetic franchise that it is. Unable to lure quality free agents or sell season tickets. In other words, the Warriors still have to be the Warriors.
I think that's punishment enough.