Two worlds: Sprewell's and the one of reality


I could add my voice to the list of people who have excoriated banished National Basketball Association player Latrell Sprewell in the past two weeks. But the truth is, I don't give a hoot about Sprewell.

Let's recap Sprewell's so-called "plight" for a few moments. On Dec. 1, Sprewell -- a guard with the Golden State Warriors -- treated his coach, P. J. Carlesimo, to a bit of spontaneous asphyxiation. Carlesimo -- apparently suffering from the delusion that as head coach he was actually in charge -- ordered Sprewell to "put a little mustard" on his passes, according to an article by Phil Taylor in Sports Illustrated.

Sprewell advised Carlesimo he didn't want to hear such talk. As the coach walked toward him, Sprewell threatened to kill him and then reached out and choked Carlesimo. Players restrained him. Sprewell left the gym but returned 20 minutes later and threw a punch at the coach.

To no one's surprise, within days -- probably before the welts had cleared from Carlesimo's throat -- Sprewell was cast as the victim. Warriors management terminated the remainder of Sprewell's four-year, $32 million contract. NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Sprewell for a year. Converse canceled an endorsement deal that would have netted Sprewell an additional $300,000 to $600,000.

In the wacky world of professional athletics, all this was considered too harsh. The NBA players' union -- that Scrooge-like gaggle of twits who refuse give any money to raise the pension of the handful of old-timers who played before 1954 -- claimed Sprewell's punishment was too harsh. The suspension prevents him from playing for any other NBA team for a year. (Though you get the feeling, don't you, that at his salary he's not going to miss any meals or mortgage payments?)

Sprewell's being denied a chance to pursue his career, according to the players. Johnnie Cochran -- the special counsel to the rich, black and homicidal -- was soon on hand chiding NBA officials for not giving Sprewell a hearing.

Well, Lordy, Lordy. Let's see how Sprewell's case would have been handled in the real world, out where the rest of us live. Let's say you go into work Monday and take a notion to choke the living daylights out of your boss. You're fired. Immediately. You aren't suspended for a year. When you look for a new job and prospective employers learn what you've done, you'll be lucky to get any job at all. You might even be charged with assault and battery and jailed.

But that's the difference between our world and Sprewell's. In our world the boss is actually the boss. In Sprewell's, the boss is the coach -- someone who's regarded as something of a hindrance, a pest that is best ignored. In our world, high school basketball players show more maturity and discipline than some of the mega-rich superstars of the NBA.

In our world Sprewell is one of the leading spoiled brats in a league of spoiled brats. In Sprewell's world he's the victim, an innocent man unjustly vilified by the media. All his problems, you see, are because of the media. The tragedy is that there are some warp-minded Negroes who agree with Sprewell, who charge that the issue is about race, not Sprewell's actions.

A look at Sun reporter Jerry Bembry's story about Sprewell might, on the surface, appear to give some credence to the race charge. According to Bembry, Tom Chambers -- a white player -- attacked a conditioning coach and was only traded. There was, indeed, a disparity in punishment for Sprewell and Chambers.

But Taylor's Sports Illustrated article provides some evidence that Sprewell's problems are caused by nobody but Sprewell. He has had fights with teammates Jerome Kersey and Byron Houston. In the Houston fight, Sprewell left the gym and returned with a two-by-four, presumably, we can surmise, to assist in attitude adjustment.

In 1995, Sprewell was stopped for speeding and arrested for driving with a suspended license. According to police, he told the arresting officer, "You can be shot real easy, and people get shot out here." Charges of threatening an officer were considered but never filed.

Sprewell also didn't get along with former Warriors coach Don Nelson or the team's former guard Tim Hardaway. If we are to believe Sprewell, his problems with all these people lie with them, not him. But it's easier to believe that in telling Sprewell to take a one-year hiatus from the NBA, Stern was basing his decision on Sprewell's past conduct as well as the early December choking incident.

The late black author James Baldwin said he became an expatriate in Paris because some of his problems in America were caused by racism and others by himself. He had to get away to find out which was which. Sprewell should take a page from Baldwin's book.

Europe beckons you, young man. Don't trouble the American public again until you have a real problem.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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