Prior to recent seasons, the Warriors’ franchise had been riddled with what-ifs.
What if Don Nelson and Chris Webber got along? What if Run TMC played together for more than just two seasons? What if the Warriors didn’t suffer from a slew of draft let downs throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s (e.g. Adonal Foyle, Todd Fuller, Joe Smith picked over perennial greats like T-Mac, Kobe and Garnett)?
What if Latrell Sprewell never lost his cool?
Perhaps one of the most polarizing but memorable players in Golden State and NBA history, Sprewell was a talented swingman known for his high-scoring output, tenacious defense and rim rattling finishes. When coming across a player with explosiveness and talent like Sprewell’s, it’s disappointing to think of what he could’ve accomplished had he been able to manage his temper and off-court issues. Maybe, just maybe, Sprewell could have eventually led the Warriors to postseason success had he maintained a more professional attitude.
Latrell Sprewell was selected with the 24th overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft out of the University of Alabama, where he averaged 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.8 steals during his senior year. Although relatively unknown at the time, Sprewell was forced to start and play heavy minutes during his rookie season due to a number of injuries plaguing the roster at the time. Sprewell put up great numbers as a rookie, averaging 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. He significantly improved during his sophomore campaign, boosting his scoring average to 21 points while pulling down almost five boards and dishing out 4.7 assists per game.
Due to irreparable tension between Chris Webber and head coach Don Nelson, Webber was traded to the Bullets during the 1994 off-season. Golden State’s success now depended heavily on Latrell Sprewell, who voiced his distaste of the Webber and Billy Owens trades to management.
Sprewell eventually proved to be a great asset to the Warriors. While unable to reach the post-season, Sprewell was voted into three all-star games in ’94, ’95 and ’97 and also finished fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 24 points during the 1996-1997 season. Things changed for Sprewell and the Warriors when P. J. Carlesimo was brought in as head coach in hopes of reaching the playoffs again. Sprewell instantly clashed with Carlesimo, who was known for being very tough on his players. Sprewell was quoted for calling Carlesimo “a [expletive] joke.” He was also thrown out of practice and fined for arriving late to a game in Utah.
In perhaps what was one of the most infamous incidents in NBA history, Carlesimo berated Sprewell during practice one day, telling him to make crisper passes. Sprewell confronted the head coach and begin to strangle him while uttering the words, “I’ll kill you.” He then swung at Carlesimo again after being separated by teammates.
The altercation was quickly halted however the repercussions had a lasting effect on Sprewell’s career. David Stern suspended Sprewell for one year without pay from any NBA team and the Warriors terminated his contract in which he had two years and $25 million remaining (the first time where an NBA contract was ended due to insubordination). Converse also dropped their sponsorship of him due to the negative publicity. Sprewell eventually faced a number of legal issues after that included reckless driving and lawsuits against his agent and the NBA.
It’s a shame to see that a potential superstar have the reputation as being known as the “player who choked out his coach.” While Sprewell reached the NBA Finals with the Knicks in 1999 (and ultimately fell short), he failed to see any real success in the league even after joining Garnett and the Timberwolves in 2003.
When declining a $21 million extension with the Wolves in 2004, Sprewell was infamously quoted for saying, “I have a family to feed… If Glen Taylor wants to see my family fed, he better cough up some money. Otherwise, you’re going to see these kids in one of those Sally Struthers commercials soon.”
Sprewell found himself out of the league in 2006, refusing to sign with even contending teams like the Mavericks or Spurs for the minimum.
The story of Latrell Sprewell is a sad and tragic one. Here was a man with all the talent to be a star in the league but consistently made bad decisions even after being offered redemption. This is the story of a man whose ego got in the way of reaching any sort of accomplishment or accolade in the NBA.
He will always be remembered as one of the “not so nice NBA players.” While Sprewell averaged 18 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists throughout his career and played in the All-Star game four times, his jersey will probably never be seen on any rafters, and his name will not be called during the annual Naismith Hall of Fame ceremony.