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December 7, 1997
Sorry, Coach, I Lost My Head


It’s always a little bit odd to me when a story from the world of sports crosses over to mainstream news coverage. Maybe you’ve been following the strange, sad saga of a professional basketball player named Latrell Sprewell, or maybe you haven’t. But it sure as heck surprised me to see Sprewell’s story up for discussion on the Sunday morning news talk shows.

(Please don’t get the impression from the preceding paragraph that I’m the type of person who watches the Sunday morning news talk shows. I enjoy the occasional "This Week," but without crusty David Brinkley, it’s a whole lot less fun.)

Long story short, Sprewell is the multi-millionaire who got tired of being screamed at. He decided to do something about it. Unfortunately, his course of action was a thuggish assault.

Sprewell explains he hasn’t gotten along with his coach, P. J. Carlesimo. Fine. But the coach is the coach. He’s there to do a job – prepare and encourage the team to win. He screams? Okay, fine, as long as it doesn’t reach Woody Hayes levels. (he’s the former Ohio State football coach who once beat up one of his own players on national television – or was it an opposition player, and I’m remembering it incorrectly?)

Sprewell attacked Carlesimo at practice. They had to be separated. But, and here’s the troubling part, it was much later that Sprewell pushed through people to get at Carlesimo again. Along with this pre-meditated attack, there were various shouts of "you’d better trade me, or I’ll kill you." You know, real fun stuff like that.

Sprewell’s team, the Golden State Warriors, said "Enough!" He was canned. Suspended without pay at first, Sprewell’s $32 million contract was terminated just as soon as the Warrior’s lawyers could make sure it was okay to do so. (There’s a clause in NBA contracts saying a player can be fired for unethical conduct. Beating up the coach and threatening to kill him apparently qualifies.) The NBA followed that up with a year-long suspension. Sprewell is a free agent, and can sign with any team that wants him. He just can’t play until December, 1998.

Here’s where the story gets a bit interesting.

The NBA Players Association has filed a grievance no Sprewell’s behalf. They think he was unfairly treated.

Hello?

This multi-millionaire thug was unfairly treated?

No, unfairly treated is when you’re fired for no reason. Unfairly treated is when you’re convicted of a crime and there is no evidence. Unfairly treated is when you’re denied certain things in life for no sane reason whatsoever.

Latrell Sprewell has not been unfairly treated. He has a great talent as a basketball player, and for that, he has been rewarded with riches beyond our dreams. He’ll sit out a year, come back, promise that "he’s learned his lesson," and go back to being one of the top ten scorers in the NBA. After all, won’t Mike Tyson box again someday?

For the Players Association to say Sprewell has been mistreated is a sad, sick joke. For Billy Hunter of the NBAPA to say there has been "a rush to judgment" (on "Meet the Press"), and to call the punishment "too excessive" makes me sick.

Maybe he didn’t see the red marks around P. J. Carlesimo’s throat. Maybe nobody has shown him the tape. Maybe he needs to realize that Latrell is very, very lucky not to be going to jail right now. Maybe he needs to understand that a lot of people who looked up to Latrell have been let down. Maybe, just maybe, Billy Hunter and the NBAPA ought to let this one go.

Because the consequences of the actions of Latrell Sprewell need to be borne by Latrell Sprewell. And in one year, with a new year’s worth of sports scandals to keep up busy, who will even remember Sprewell’s assault?

The worst part of it may not even be the physical attack. Sprewell has assaulted an American institution – The Coach. Whether we like Coaches or not, we have become a country of Coaches. It is on the institution that the scratchy red assault marks will remain long after P. J. Carlesimo’s throat heals. What will a new generation of players say by way of explaining their varying degrees of attacks on their coaches? "Sorry, Coach, I lost my head. Apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding."

So go away, Latrell, play by yourself for a while if you can’t play nice with the other kids.

And don’t worry about spending those millions you’ve already made playing a playground game. More millions await after your relatively brief time out.


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©1997
Colin Campbell - jenolen@earthlink.net
Last updated December 7, 1997