By Brian Taylor
The NBA of Magic and Larry evolved into a media monster of insane proportions. Gone are the Stockton shorts, Kurt Rambis goggles, empty arenas and the NBA Finals on tape-delay, today’s league has had its genes spliced with the hip-hop genre, and David Stern’s league has gone through growing pains. A once proud father of the league, Stern has now turned into the disgruntled dad, the one who needs to look good in front of the guys at the polo club, while being upset at the baggy clothes and loud music his darn kids listen to. In the neighborhood of pro sports, the NBA has possibly the highest profile house, but in his eyes, the kids he’s raised are getting outta hand. The one guy to really represent this “Televised Revolution” was Milwaukee’s best, Latrell Sprewell.
Sprewell came into the league pretty much unheralded, being drafted from Alabama in 1992 (the Shaq/Zo’/Laettner draft). Back then; he was known more for being Robert Horry’s teammate in the SEC than standing out on his own. Spree didn’t really blossom until he teamed up with Chris Webber at run-and-gun Golden State. The two young guns teamed up to form a mean one-two combination, with Spree making the All-Star squad in just his second year, (after averaging 21 points and nearly 3 steals per game).
When C-Webb got shipped to the Bullets (for Tom Gugliotta) and the Warriors started to falter, the match got closer to the proverbial gas tank for Spree. Soon after, Chris Mullin went to Indy, Joe Smith didn’t live up to his hype and Don Nelson bolted. Latrell turned into a ticking time bomb.
In Warriors’ practice, P.J. Carlisemo (starting a trend of college coaches faltering at the next level) got up in Spree’s grill, upset that he wasn’t putting enough mustard on his passes.
And as you all know……”That’s when the po-lice came”
Next thing you know, Latrell’s squeezing P.J.’s neck like Homer on Bart Simpson after one of his prank phone calls. It took the whole Warriors’ squad to pull the guy off him. Not only that, but Spree was going to go back and finish the job, as he charged P.J. a second time. Needless to say, Latrell didn’t endear himself to the Warriors, the league, David Stern or the media, as he slugged it out “Spree vs. the World” style. Golden State’s brass had a “one strike rule” and promptly waived Spree. This whole episode spawned a new phenomena about coaches worrying about having authority over guys that made more cake than them. It also spawned a new persona for Spree, “Superthug”.
1998 was the “Year Basketball Stood Still” as the players’ and owners’ beef mutated into the NBA Lockout. (I never watched so much hockey in my life, but the Caps did go to the Cup Finals!) When play finally resumed there was a shortened season, and some opportunities for new blood to win championship brass (Jordan had just beaten Utah for his last title). The Knicks, looking to finally get over the Jordan hump no longer had that huge #23 mountain to climb, so they took a chance and picked up Sprewell off waivers.
Talk about a huge gamble paying off, the Knicks ignored the naysayers, the rumors about Spree being a locker room cancer and got Latrell into an already potent lineup that had the likes of Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson and Allan Houston. The Knicks had another scorer to take the load off an aging Pat Ewing and had one of the most potent starting fives in basketball. The Knicks rode Spree and the boys all the way to the Finals, (who could forget LJ’s four point play against Evil Miller in the ECFs?), were they met the eighth-wonder-of-the-world Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs.
The twin-tower combo of Duncan and David Robinson proved to be too much for the Knicks, as they went down swinging in 5 games. For years after that title run, Spree became the face of the Knicks and the symbol of the NBA’s new “in-yo-face” attitude. Spree ventured into his own business (which is still hot today) becoming the innovator of the “Sprewell Rims”, (chrome wheels that keep on turning, even after you stop driving, a must for any true baller in the league.) He was also And1’s first pitchmen. His straight gangster attitude on the court carried The World’s Most Scrutinized Ballclub until 2003, when injuries started to slow him down. With New York sinking fast the Knicks sent Latrell to the up-and-coming Timberwolves, where he’d team up with veteran Sam Cassell and freak-of-nature Kevin Garnett.
In Minny, the Wolves set out to do the impossible (for them) as they passed the NBA’s first round for the first time in team history. They cruised all the way to the Conference Finals, where they were met by a brick wall (Shaq) and a Corvette (Kobe) that they fell to in 5 games.
Here’s the weird part about Spree’s situation, instead of giving it another shot, he pretty much sulked through the entire 2004-05 season. He killed my fantasy team, and was unmotivated by (surprise) Kevin McHale’s tightness of wallet. Many also feel that Spree was getting ridiculous with his demands, saying his infamous “How am I gonna feed my family” quote. (Let’s be real, what would YOU do with a few million?). The Wolves cut Spree after his wack season and today he’s out of the league and has vowed never to return.
Recently Spree got into some drama, Minnesota Viking style (if you don’t know the story, look it up). But it looks like one of the greatest pure scorers the league has ever seen will have an anticlimactic end to his career.