Less than 12 hours after his former employers, the Golden State Warriors, terminated his contract and its $23.7-million balance, the NBA terminated Latrell Sprewell's job prospects, suspending him for a year, the rest of this season and the start of the next.
Also, the Converse sneaker company, which had vowed to stand by Sprewell, dropped him.
"Latrell Sprewell assaulted Coach P.J. Carlesimo twice at Monday's practice," NBA Commissioner David Stern said. "First, he choked him until forcibly pulled away. Then, after leaving practice, Mr. Sprewell returned and fought his way through others in order to commit a second, and this time clearly premeditated, assault.
"A sports league does not have to accept or condone behavior that would not be tolerated in any other segment of society. Accordingly, Latrell Sprewell is suspended from the NBA for one year."
The suspension is the longest in NBA history. The record was held by the Lakers' Kermit Washington, who missed half of the 1977-78 season after throwing the punch that caved in Rudy Tomjanovich's face.
Billy Hunter, director of the NBA Players Assn., who had criticized Sprewell and indicated that the union would stay out of it when the Warriors handed down the first suspension of 10 games, said he will now file a grievance.
However, the central facts are not in dispute. In a series of interviews Sprewell gave Wednesday, he as much as admitted to twice assaulting Carlesimo after the coach threw him out of Monday's practice, to choking him, saying "I'll kill you," and later, after going to the front office to demand a trade, returning and going after him again.
There is a dispute over provocation, however.
Warrior General Manager Garry St. Jean said Sprewell made "multiple unprovoked" assaults but the Contra Costa Times quoted an unnamed Warrior as saying, "P.J. provoked it," claiming Carlesimo walked three-quarters the length of the court to confront Sprewell, who kept warning him, "Don't come up on me."
"All the frustration had built up to the point where I couldn't take it anymore," Sprewell told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I just wanted P.J. to leave me alone, basically. . . . I just got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore."
Sprewell said he only uttered the death threat because "I was upset." Nevertheless, extra security was brought in for Wednesday's game.
The suspension is effective immediately and will end Dec. 3, 1998. Sprewell may be picked up on waivers, or signed as a free agent when waivers expire, but can't play for a new team until then.
Meanwhile, Converse, whose spokeswoman had said Tuesday, "Latrell is still going to be with us," cut its losses Thursday.
Neither Sprewell nor his agent, Arn Tellem, was available for comment Thursday. Tellem had indicated they would begin the grievance process before the league acted.
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Golden State's Latrell Sprewell is the fifth player to be suspended by the NBA and the first for insubordination:
* 1954--Jack Molinas of Fort Wayne Pistons was barred for life for gambling and eight years later was implicated in a college betting scandal.
* 1986--Micheal Ray Richardson of New Jersey Nets was suspended for substance abuse and was reinstated July 21, 1988.
* 1987--Mitchell Wiggins and Lewis Lloyd of Houston Rockets were suspended for substance abuse. Wiggins was reinstated July, 27, 1989, and Lloyd was reinstated Sept. 9, 1989.
* 1995--Roy Tarpley of the Dallas Mavericks was banned for using alcohol, which violated terms of his after-care agreement. Tarpley had been banned by the league in 1991 and reinstated Sept. 30, 1994.
* 1997--Commissioner David Stern suspended Golden State's Latrell Sprewell for one year--the longest suspension in league history--for what he called a "premeditated assault" on Coach P.J. Carlesimo.
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What the NBA Said
Text of NBA Commissioner David Stern's statement on the league's one-year suspension of Latrell Sprewell:
Latrell Sprewell assaulted Coach P.J. Carlesimo twice at Monday's practice. First he choked him until forcibly pulled away. Then, after leaving practice, Mr. Sprewell returned and fought his way through others in order to commit a second, and this time clearly premeditated, assault.
A sports league does not have to accept or condone behavior that would not be tolerated in any other segment of society. Accordingly, Latrell Sprewell is suspended from the NBA for one year.