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Sprewell draws longest suspension in NBA history

December 5, 1997 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ The NBA met force with force Thursday and handed Latrell Sprewell one of the harshest penalties ever in professional sports.

Commissioner David Stern suspended the Golden State Warriors’ All-Star guard one year _ the longest suspension in league history _ for what he called the ``premeditated assault″ of coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Stern’s action follows that of the Warriors, who took the unprecedented step of firing Sprewell Wednesday night by terminating the remaining three years of his four-year, $32 million contract.

Sprewell won’t be eligible to play in the NBA again until Dec. 3, 1998 _ even if another team claims him off waivers by Monday morning or signs him to a free-agent contract.

About all Sprewell can do is try to play overseas _ an option he said he’d consider.

``A sports league does not have to condone or accept behavior that would not be tolerated in any other segment of society,″ Stern said.

Sprewell has not commented since the Warriors terminated his contract; his agent, Arn Tellem, did not return phone calls to his office and home.

The NBA Players’ Association said it would file a grievance on Sprewell’s behalf against the Warriors and the league.

``To strip a player of his ability to pursue his livelihood for a full year based on one isolated incident is excessive and unreasonable punishment,″ union head Billy Hunter said. ``A $25 million forfeiture of salary and one-year expulsion is staggering.″

Sprewell’s suspension would not prevent one of the league’s 28 other teams from signing the three-time All-Star once he clears waivers. However, he could not play until next December and the team would be forbidden from paying Sprewell or letting him use its facilities in the meantime.

That means Sprewell would have to go overseas to play for big money. He could join the Continental Basketball Association, the NBA’s official developmental league, but not for the kind of salary he could make in Europe.

``I’ll go overseas to play if I have to. And my life will go on if I never play basketball again,″ Sprewell said before the league suspended him. ``Basketball didn’t make me what I am. I’ll be OK. I’ll be man enough to deal with whatever happens.″

The Warriors’ leading scorer with a 21.4 average, Sprewell was due to make $7.7 million this season - the second year of his contract. The team was expected to petition the league to have Sprewell’s salary removed from the cap, freeing it to acquire another highly paid player.

Sprewell also will take a financial hit outside his NBA income. Converse said it was dropping him as an endorser and spokesman for the shoe company.

The NBA has been on the offensive this season against disruptive behavior, with penalties ranging from suspensions of Allen Iverson and Isaiah Rider for their off-court arrests to fining players $2,500 apiece for wearing uniform shorts that drooped below their knees.

The league also mailed each player code-of-conduct guidelines that warned of penalties for fairly common practices such as cursing during games.

``The league office sees all these things that are happening, and I’m sure they weighed it to make a decision that’s in the best interest of the league,″ Atlanta Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens said. ``You hate to see this happen to anybody, but no player should ever strike a coach. That’s just unheard of.″

New Jersey Nets general manager John Nash said: ``The suspension was appropriate.″

``It didn’t surprise me. His action was outrageous. The severity of it warrants the penalty. What he did was unprecedented, although he’s exhibited severe anger against players before. He had a fight with Jerome Kersey, left the building and came back with a two-by-four,″ Nash said. ``A coach telling a player to `put a little mustard on it’ is hardly out of line.″

Bulls coach Phil Jackson called for understanding.

``It’s real easy to jump on the bandwagon and beat up everybody and jump on Sprewell and everything else,″ he said. ``But until you’re in a situation like that, it’s really difficult.″

The attack on Carlesimo occurred while Sprewell and a teammate were conducting a shooting drill and tossing passes to one another on Monday. Carlesimo told the players to throw crisper passes, and Sprewell began venting at the coach. Witnesses said he grabbed the coach by the neck and threatened to kill him. Then Sprewell left the gym, but returned about 15 minutes later and confronted the coach again.

Carlesimo began meeting individually with players on Thursday. Asked how the 1-14 team would continue without its leading scorer, he said: ``I don’t think it’s an easy situation, but I don’t think it was an easy situation when the week started, either. We’ve lost a player and we didn’t acquire anything back.″

Sprewell’s suspension was much harsher than the previous longest penalty issued by the league _ the 60-day (26-game) suspension of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kermit Washington in 1977 for a windmill punch that broke the jaw of the Houston Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich during a game.

Last season, the league suspended Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls for 11 games for kicking a courtside cameraman.

Roy Tarpley and Richard Dumas received the harshest penalties the NBA can issue _ a lifetime ban _ for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

In interviews with the San Francisco Chronicle and KPIX-TV prior to his firing and league suspension, Sprewell admitted making a mistake, but did not apologize to Carlesimo. He said his attack was provoked ``after a lot of verbal abuse by P.J.″

In a letter to Sprewell on Tuesday, the team said it reserved the right to terminate his contract under Section 16 of the Uniform Player Contract, which says players must ``conform to standards of good citizenship and good moral character″ and prohibits ``engaging in acts of moral turpitude.″

Some NBA players have a personal conduct guarantee clause in their contracts that prohibits teams from terminating their services based on behavior. Sprewell, the first player ever ``fired″ for insubordination, had no such protection.

In explaining the Warriors’ decision Wednesday night, general manager Garry St. Jean said: ``The right thing to do is not to trade him, but to terminate his contract. The Warriors believe this is the correct moral and ethical thing to do.″

But guard Bimbo Coles said: ``There’s been a lot of worse problems in the league and they’ve gotten help for the guy. I think the league is definitely making an example of Sprewell. They’re saying coaches are hands off.″