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The Real Spree


Not that coaches aren't vulnerable. No coach is nearly as valuable to a franchise as is a franchise player. Michael Jordan is said to have got Doug Collins canned at Chicago for being a screamer. In L.A., Magic Johnson cashiered Paul Westhead because he wanted to play an uptempo offense. Young players want minutes, and to get them, they'll put up with abuse. But once a team's record goes south, or veteran stars began to grumble, the collegian "motherfucker" approach will eventually come to grief.

"Fights are common," Sprewell told me. "Hey, it's a physical game." He was sitting on a folding table in the Purchase gym, where I'd watched him stay an hour and a half after practice shooting free throws (30 in a row would drop, then one would clang in and out of the hoop, and then he'd make another 30).

So had he got into any fights on the Knicks? I asked.

"It hasn't happened, but I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if it did."

When I asked Sprewell if he'd followed the NBA's recommendation that he enroll in "anger management" courses, he said, "Nope. I thought that was a joke."

Did he think he'd had a problem with his temper at Golden State?

"Not any more than I do now." He turned away to watch a couple of teenagers playing a sloppy game of one-on-one. "I mean, it takes a lot to get me upset, but if I do, I'm probably a little bit more aggressive than the average person." He rolled his eyes slyly.

Just because he'd lost his cool didn't mean he would again.

"Doesn't mean I won't either. Like I said, I didn't take any classes."

After the choking, a number of Sprewell's teammates stood by him. One said Carlesimo had provoked him. A few of Carlesimo's former players in Portland came forward to describe his coaching methods as "verbally abusive." Rod Strickland, by now playing for Washington, said, "I can understand Spree. I can relate to him." Tracy Murray, who also went from Portland to Washington, said Carlesimo had had other confrontations with players: "If you ask me, more than once, more than twice -- what's going on here?"

In light of this, the rumor that a couple of Warriors actually got out of Sprewell's way to give him a free shot at Carlesimo is not surprising. It also helps explain what is by far the most puzzling passage in the Feerick report, from the summation of Bimbo Coles's testimony: "Coles heard a ball slam louder than usual, turned around, and saw the Grievant with his hands around Carlesimo's neck. He said he could not believe his eyes and it did not dawn on him what was happening, so he turned around and took another shot."

Fittingly enough, Sprewell's first game back from the heel injury last month was in Milwaukee, against the Bucks. I brought Coach Gordon to the Bradley Center, and we sat on the sideline watching the only NBA player he'd discovered. During one of the Knicks' first possessions with him in the game, Sprewell set up on the wing, shifting his weight in rhythm with the music on the sound system. He was open and yelled "Whoop," but Charlie Ward, the point guard, drove and kicked it out to Ewing. Sprewell threw up his arms, pouting slightly.

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