by Cinque Brown
There is a saying that states "there are 3 sides to every story; their side, your side and the Truth." Latrell Sprewell, affectionately called "Spree" by players around the league had the remaining three years of his "guaranteed" contract with the Golden State Warriors terminated. This managerial decision, cost him twenty four million dollars . The next day the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended him for one calendar year; the longest suspension in NBA history.
These actions came as a result of "Spree" physically assaulting his coach P.J. Carlesimo. Spree choked P.J. after the two got into a verbal joust during practice. Spree denies the constantly surfacing rumor that he choked him a second time. He said when he came back he simply demanded to be traded and he could not have choked P.J. even if he wanted to because all his teammates were holding him back. Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated says "P.J. told Spree to put some mustard on his passes" Spree replied "I don't want to hear it today." After that P.J. started to approach Spree, despite Spree's repeated warnings of "Don't come up on me!" P.J. continued forward, at this point Spree threatened his life and when P.J. got close enough, Spree grabbed him by the throat and began choking him.
Ironically, if P.J. pressed criminal charges, this would simply be a legal matter and I would have no opinion. Instead a paradox has arisen, because had he done such a thing, he would have at least received "due process." Instead the media and the gullible public immediately went into an uproar over the information that had been fed to them. This was further exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the NBA players (of which 80% are African American) feel that Spree was treated unfairly. Half of his teammates appeared at his press conference, in support of him. Nobody has condoned his physical reaction to P.J. but the majority of the NBA players feel that the situation was handled wrong. This has led to talk of a boycott of two major NBA events. Even the games' statesman, Michael Jordan, said that he would support a boycott of the All-Star game and the World Championship, if that were how the players choose to show their dissatisfaction. This year the All-Star game is supposed to take place in the financial and media capital of the world, New York City. This forebodes bad news for the NBA.
The Spree penalty is contrary to comparable situations in other professional sports leagues as well as the NBA itself. Is it necessary for me to cite the instances of players, managers and coaches who have not "conformed to personal conduct by standards of good citizenship and good moral character?" This excerpt can be found in section 16 of the Uniform Player Contract which is the section the NBA used to justify the year long ban, of Spree. I can name literally hundreds of these violations in the NFL (football), NHL (hockey), and MLB (baseball) but better yet the NBA itself. The NBA players union knows of them also and in conjunction with Cochran and Company will present them in Spree's defense. They will cite the recent altercation between white athlete and coach that went unchecked by the media and NBA. Where was the press when in November of 1997, Tom Chambers then of the Phoenix Suns punched an assistant coach Robin Pound? (approximately 2 weeks before the Spree) This event took place with no disciplinary action by the league. The next week Chambers was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, he has since retired. Suns General Manager, Bryan Colangelo said, "the incident had nothing to do with the trade."
So is this a racial decision? Not totally, but race can't be bypassed in assessing the reaction and punishment of the violation. A Black man hurting a White man conjures up scary images, to the typical fan paying to watch a NBA game. Especially when that Black man wears braids in his head, baggy shorts (which have recently been outlawed by the league), has admitted to loving rap music and never has much to say to the media. The media insists that a quiet, introverted Black male athlete has a chip on his shoulders and is a mad person. To them he's got an image that is easy to persecute; they won't have to overexpose the film's negative to make him appear darker as they did O.J. Simpson. To them this guy is "ready made", a perfect example of what the leagues does not need. The NBA had to show everybody that they have their Blacks in control.
Many of the people who are able to afford the price of an NBA or NFL ticket don't want to hear anything some of their favorite athlete's have to say about anything outside of sports conversation. Imagine Reggie White, telling his sneaker company (Nike) that "they need to employ some Black kids and stop utilizing cheap overseas labor." (Jet Magazine 12/8/97) African American athletes who tend to talk about political and urban social situations, because he has money, influence and access to the media, upsets the typical White American. There are not many Muhammad Ali's or Tommie Smith's among them but they may be waking up some sleeping giants with their acts of tyranny. (Remember Mahmoud Abdu Rahouf and the National Anthem)
Side 1- P.J. has a history of verbally abusing players, he has had many problems with his former players since coming from college and he has been selling his tough guy image throughout the bay area. He can be found on billboards dressed in all black with black shades on and bold lettering which reads "No more Mr. Nice Guy."
Side 2- Although Spree has said very little, we know that he has a bad temper and has exhibited a history of having problems with other teammates which has escalated into physical violence.
Side 3-TRUTH: Both men are probably very hard to get along with. A privileged life centered around athletic contest in posh surroundings has the ability to inflate the ego beyond normal circumstances. Although each of these men has issued an apology to the other over the phone, they both apologized for letting the situation get out of hand, not for what they have "said" or "did." In all fairness to Spree and P.J. , they are both grown men and don't have to kiss and make up and most people don't truthfully care if they do or don't.