Year in Review: 1997


Re-rank the list of top sports stories of 1997


Find out more about:

Tiger Woods takes
golf world by storm

Pedro Martinez signs
record deal with Sox

Latrell Sprewell
assaults coach, gets ax

Rick Pitino becomes
Celtics coach, president

Bill Parcells quits after Patriots' banner year

Martina Hingis
rules women's tennis

Florida Marlins win World Series

Women's pro hoop
meets with success

A Patriots surprise:
Super Bowl XXXI berth

Wil Cordero charged
with assaulting wife

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Check out the top news stories of 1997
It's refreshing that those in authority opted to fight back

By Dan Shaughnessy, Globe Columnist, 12/05/97

aturally, there are already nitwits campaigning to "Free Latrell." Teammates have come to his defense, and Golden State Warrior officials confiscated signs supporting Latrell during Wednesday night's loss to the Cavaliers. No doubt the loyalists in Elton, England, will start a petition protest at Rigger's Pub.

Let them eat fruitcake.

On Monday, Warrior guard Latrell Sprewell twice attacked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo. On Wednesday night, Sprewell's contract was terminated by the team, and yesterday NBA comissioner David Stern banned Sprewell for one year.

Finally, we have consequences for actions. For the first time in a long time, a pro athlete didn't get away with something. For the first time in a long time, an athlete got the same penalty that you or I would get for an infraction.

If I walked into my sports editor's office today and tried to strangle the boss, I would be fired. So would you. But for too long, it has not worked that way in pro sports.

The message to athletes in recent years has been that you can kick camera people, hurl baseballs at fans, spit in the face of an umpire, beat your wife, beat your kids, take out your rival with a tire iron, get caught with a crack pipe in your hand, carry guns through airports, and still get paid by your employer. There's always been an Alan Dershowitz and a Donald Fehr to protect the rights of the out-of-control player.

Sprewell no doubt will play basketball for somebody again, but the Warriors, to their everlasting credit, fired him for his assault on Carlesimo. The Warriors had contracted to pay Sprewell $32 million over four years, but general manager Garry St. Jean invoked Section 16 of the standard players' contract, which stipulates that players must conform to standards of good citizenship and good moral character. Yesterday, in a very unbaseball-like show of command, commissioner Stern dropped the second hammer.

There no doubt will be grievances, and Sprewell said he'll play overseas if he has to, but he is done with the NBA for a year because he tried to beat up his coach.

Explaining his actions, Sprewell said he could no longer stand the verbal abuse heaped on him by Carlesimo.

Wow. Verbal abuse from a coach. How did any of us ever get through high school? Held to this standard, I can think of 43 Patriots who must have wanted to beat the gills off the Tuna last year. And let's not even talk about Red Auerbach, Hubie Brown, Bill Fitch, Earl Weaver, Dallas Green, Mike Ditka, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, or Bobby Knight.

No doubt there will be cries of racism before the dust settles on this episode. This was a black man getting fired after attacking his white boss (note that all the abusive coaches listed above are white), and the folks who see things only in black and white are certain to see bigotry as the basis for Sprewell's punishment.

Sorry. It doesn't fly. If Celtics forward Kevin McHale had hit coach K.C. Jones, he would have been fired. If Larry Walker strangles his manager, Don Baylor, he should be fired.

The NBA's got a pretty good track record here. A lot of players, black and white, have been forgiven for a lot of sins. This case is different because a player attacked and threatened to kill his boss. It's not about color. It's about crossing the line. It's about enforcing the rules of society. Verbal abuse is not cause for physical abuse. And just how much verbal abuse would you take from your boss in exchange for $32 million over four years?

Oh, and nice going by the brave folks over there at Converse. Tuesday they said Sprewell was still on board, but yesterday - armed with the Warriors' and Stern's sanctions - they terminated Sprewell.

We are a forgiving nation. Let the rehab begin. Get Latrell the help he needs, then put the spinmasters on the case: Latrell was misunderstood as a child ... His mom always liked his brother best ... Yada yada yada.

Latrell will be back - probably before Marv Albert and Mike Tyson. Everybody comes back. But for once, we can look at the sports pages and tell our kids that a pro ballplayer did something bad and was punished immediately.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist.

This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 12/05/97.
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