"Easy, Latrell," Gordon said. "Take your time."
A few minutes later, Sprewell missed a three-pointer but got his own rebound and put it in. "You get more air under the ball when you have it rolling off a bigger area of your fingertips," Gordon said, miming a shot above his head. He said Sprewell had learned to hit twelve-footers on his team, then added a foot to his shot each year. "The trick was getting the ball. You know how he did it? He'd say, 'I'm a D-man, I don't need the ball.' By the end of his last season at Alabama, they're giving him the last shot. That's why I always say he knows how to work that human behavior."
"When you coach a guy like Latrell," he went on, "you get a guy that bares his soul for you, and you got to bare your soul back. And at Golden State, that coach didn't give him any of himself. Instead he's calling him 'motherfucker' or treating him like a child."
But how could Gordon say Sprewell had bared his soul? Even people close to him describe him as so remote.
"By playing his hardest," he said. "That is his soul. It's everything he has to give."
Grunfeld says one of the reasons the Knicks hoped Sprewell would be a good fit was that "Jeff is a players' coach. He's not a yeller. He relates to his players." Van Gundy is the sort of coach who motivates teams through guilt: He makes them feel they'll be letting him down by losing.
The Knicks lost the game in Milwaukee by a point, and afterward, Gordon and I followed Sprewell from the locker room to the lobby. He had ten minutes to hold his son in his arms before flying with the team back to White Plains, where his room at the Residence Inn awaited, and he'd return to his on-the-road-at-home routine of watching game tapes and talking on the phone with his mother and fiancée.
A smaller crowd formed around Coach Gordon: old teammates of Sprewell's on the '87?'88 squad. There was Danny Parker, who scored thirteen points in the win over Custer High for the city conference title; and Chris Powell, their center. Some of them went on to college ball -- Calvin Rayford, the five-eight point guard on that team, played for Kansas with the Knicks' Ben Davis. "And," he said, "I was a McDonald's All-American in high school with two other guys out there tonight, Rick Brunson and Glenn Robinson" -- of the Bucks. "Tonight's like my own reunion." He played pro in Colombia and Poland but, Gordon said, "Now he's back in Milwaukee living with his mother, like everyone from that team." Gordon thought Rayford might get into coaching. "Not sure what I'm gonna do," Rayford told us. "I'd still like someplace to play."
Afterward, Gordon and I went for chicken wings, and I asked how he thought Sprewell felt about how different his life was from his old teammates'. "Oh, I don't think it's hit him yet," Gordon said. "The kid still doesn't know where he is."