Sprewell testified he heard a teammate, Duane Ferrell, tell him he was only making himself look bad, and he felt humiliated all of a sudden. He was throwing a silly, violent tantrum. "Trade me," he yelled, and then realized he was missing a flip-flop and looked even more foolish, with one bare foot. "Give me my damned shoe."
Sprewell passed the enforced year off back in Milwaukee, waiting for a second chance. "I knew someone was going to want me," he says. "Was just a question of where." But one can imagine the doubt that must occlude the mind of someone who has played -- and starred -- among the best athletes in the world, in 18,000-seat arenas, places where they sell action figures with his likeness, suddenly relegated to playing horse with his brother and his kid cousin. And yet that is what he did, and that is how he sustained hope. "It was having to be watching games on TV that got to me," he says. "As long as I was on the court, I was okay.
His cousin Ceso Sprewell is a 16-year-old sophomore at Washington High, plays forward, goes by the nickname Boom, and was the primary recipient of his confidences during his exile. I first met him in the lunchroom, when Gordon brought him over, then saw his team lose by two points to Wauwatosa East in the finals of the Wisconsin regional playoffs. He's six foot three and gangly, light-skinned, with a sweet face and ears that stick out like they've been propped up with toothpicks.
Scoring only six points, Ceso didn't have his best game. Plus, he got called for traveling and let the ball go through his hands a couple of times, and sat out most of the second half. He took the loss hard and shuffled across the gym after his shower, eyes on the scoreboard, while behind him two little girls followed and kept asking why, if the rest of the team was missing shots, he wasn't put in.
Coach Gordon approached and laid one hand on Ceso and another on Ceso's half-sister Lashonda, who, at age 28, is his legal guardian (both his parents are dead).
"I know it hurts," Gordon said.
"Hey, we got another two years," Lashonda said. Ceso gave her a look that said "What does that have to do with anything?" but was silent.
I visited Ceso and Lashonda the next day at their apartment complex near downtown. Ceso came out in the snow before I got to the door, in a Warriors jersey and shorts with Latrell's number on them, regulation NBA socks, and flip-flops.
"Lashonda say we gotta go to my other sister's house because she didn't do the cleaning yet," he said, and so we walked behind the cul-de-sac to an identical row of townhouses where his sister Roshanda let us in. Her place, where she is raising two kids, was immaculate, with a velour sectional and a smoked-glass coffee table.
Most mornings last summer, Ceso said, Latrell would show up in his driveway, music coming so loud from his truck that Ceso could hear him from down the block. He'd bring him to Bally's to lift weights, to Lake Michigan to ride Jet-Skis, to the Boston Store for school clothes. "We played one-on-one at Lincoln Park, and he showed me some of his secret stuff," Ceso said. "But Trell's too competitive to let me win. One time -- one time, I was hitting everything, and I had a chance to hit a three-pointer that woulda beat him. And he ran at me and and I shot over the backboard. And he was just laughing."