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NATIONAL REAX: IS SPREWELL INCIDENT A DEFINING MOMENT?
Published December 11, 1997
Latrell Sprewell's attack on P.J. Carlesimo and the subsequent one-year suspension from the NBA by Commissioner David Stern continues to draw significant attention from the print media. Many writers are using the story to comment on the state of the NBA and as an example of the attitude of professional athletes towards authority. A sampling of these articles follows (THE DAILY): A GANGSTER RAP: In N.Y., Mike Wise wrote the Sprewell incident "shook the entire league" and is the "latest in a series of troublesome incidents in the N.B.A. involving on- court and off-court misconduct by any number of its players. In particular, [it] raised uncomfortable issues for the league dealing with race, mutual respect and a generational chasm between players and coaches that, at least in some instances, may be widening" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/7). NEWSWEEK's Starr & Samuels: "The attack heightens already growing concerns about the lack of discipline among the game's younger stars" (NEWSWEEK, 12/15 issue). The CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR's Sam Walker said it "raises important questions about changes in society that may be reflected in increasingly strained relationships between NBA players and coaches" (CSM, 12/8). TIME's Joel Stein: "It didn't take a genius to see all this coming. Respect for the old establishment was clearly fading as huge salaries boosted egos and brash wannabe superstars began to elbow their way toward the inevitable post-Michael Jordan era" (TIME, 12/15 issue). In S.F., Glenn Dickey wrote the NBA "has a serious problem, the cult of the individual, and it won't be solved by the suspension of Latrell Sprewell." Dickey argued "many" NBA athletes "are out of control ... and they could ruin the game" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/10). In San Jose, Mark Purdy wrote, "[t]his is not a story that goes beyond pro basketball. It is a story totally about pro basketball, which for too long has been too bloated with too much money and too much ego" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/10). In Charlotte, Ron Green: "It's not the games that are eroding the image of the NBA. ... People are fed up with athletes behaving like gangsters. ... They are fed up with athletes who are out of touch with reality" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 12/11). In Boston, Bob Ryan: "This is a story with major legs. Before it plays out, the issue of confrontational coaches will get a good airing out ... and the idea of league authority will be examined and, most of all, the issue of race will come to the fore" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/11). SI'S TAKE: Sprewell is pictured on SI's cover with text that reads the "incident raises other issues that could pose threats to the NBA's future, issues of power and money and - - most dangerous of all -- race." Analyzing the state of the league, SI's Jack McCallum writes when Stern "made the command decision to kick Sprewell out of the league for one year, it seemed that perhaps the pressures of dealing with a star-crossed first month of the season had something to do with his draconian decision." McCallum adds that if the arbitrator shortens Sprewell's decision, "it would represent Stern's biggest defeat in his glorious 13-year run as the commissioner's commissioner" (SI, 12/15 issue). In his piece, "The Race Card," SI's Phil Taylor writes, "[T]here is a sense that the league was trying to do more than send a message that attacking a coach is unpardonable ... it was also trying to send a message to the public that the NBA it knows and loves was not becoming too dangerous, 'too black.'" SI's Michael Farber writes Sprewell is "just another in the long line of friendly reminders ... that sports stand at a precipice. There's no guardrail. There's no abiding sense of right or wrong, at least beyond what the various leagues' vice presidents for violence impose on yesterday's headline makers. The industry of sports has gone to hell in a handbasket, but as long as a team or corporate logo is on the handbasket, it's O.K." (SI, 12/15). PR PLIGHT: In Detroit, Bob Wojnowski: "The NBA is mired in the biggest public-relations scandal since baseball cancelled the World Series. If the arbitrator reduces Sprewell's punishment significantly, the league loses another chunk of power, and the image of players run amok grows. If the arbitrator upholds the ban, Barkley and his cohorts will play every card" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/11). In N.Y., Joe Gergen: "What began as a simple assault by an athlete against his coach has mushroomed into an incident of great consequence not only for basketball but for all professional sports in America." He added the NBA has thrown "down the gauntlet to the players to shape up or be shipped out, in what may be a defining moment between management and labor in professional sports. Stern believes the role of commissioner and the letter of the player contract entitles him to demand a standard of conduct on and off the court. He is banking his reputation on it" (NEWSDAY, 12/11). In Orlando, Larry Guest notes a CBS SportsLine poll that showed 69% of respondents feel more negatively toward the NBA this season: "If Stern is playing to the Court of Public Opinion, it's about time someone in the NBA considered public sentiment. Too many players and owners don't, and Stern is gamely trying to save them all from themselves" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 12/11). In Oakland, Carl Steward wrote that while the NBA's suspension "may be vulnerable," it is a "thinly veiled message to the entire players' association that it will deal with its image problems involving myriad player insurrections as strongly as it sees fit" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 12/10). But in Chicago, Sam Smith writes the Sprewell issue "is about big money and who gets it, and who will have the bargaining power when the real fight takes place next summer" over the CBA (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/11). In Portland, Dwight Jaynes: "If the players get the punishment overturned or shortened, it will only serve as one more incident that will bring even more fans to management's side -- and against the players -- in the inevitable labor strife" (OREGONIAN, 12/10). TIME TO TALK? In Oakland, Monte Poole wrote that Johnnie Cochran's role with Sprewell should lead Stern to talk with the union. Stern "knows a fight with Cochran could get messy, risking further alienation. The suggestion here to Stern is to consider a compromise" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 12/10). In S.F., Gwen Knapp wrote the "long-term health of the NBA now appears to be at stake" and called on Stern to "call a timeout in the hostilities," talk with the player reps and "reassure the players" that the one-year "suspension (like Sprewell's attack) was an aberration" (EXAMINER, 12/10). In L.A., Randy Harvey writes Stern "has forgotten, as baseball's leaders did years ago, that a league's most valuable assets are its players. ... Stern's reaction, his overreaction, was to establish himself as judge and jury." Harvey: "In the battle for the hearts and souls of the fans, the likelihood is that Stern will win and the players will lose. That means the NBA loses. I thought Stern was smarter than that" (L.A. TIMES, 12/11). In Chicago, Jay Mariotti: "[L]ike some radical thinker with a hidden agenda, [Stern] went too far" (SUN-TIMES, 12/11). BIG PICTURE: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins: "There's a deep- seated anger among athletes from hard backgrounds, an anger stemming from racism, injustice and the constant specter of violence. Players will continue to bring that anger into the professional ranks" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/6). CA-based sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards said, "Eventually, one of these kids is going to leave practice -- and he's not going to come back and take a swing at the coach. He's going to come back shooting" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 12/6).