Summarized by Kent Larsen
Dave Checkett's Sprewell Gambit Pays Off
Washington Post pgD06 21May00 S2
By Rachel Alexander: Washington Post Staff Writer
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- A year and a half ago, sports fans, players and
coaches thought that Madison Square Garden President Dave Checketts was
crazy for engineering the trade that brought Latrell Sprewell to the New
York Knicks. Checketts, who is an active member of the LDS Church, had at
that time been quoted widely as saying that he would never bring NBA bad-boy
Dennis Rodman to the Knicks. But he then brought the single player
considered as bad, less than a year after Sprewell had been suspended for
choking his coach, P. J. Carlesimo.
But a lot can change in 18 months. Sprewell has led the Knicks to their
third Eastern Conference final in a row, and fans in New York love him. The
NBA, which once suspended Sprewell is now approving his involvement in
promotional campaigns and even film maker and rabid Knicks fan Spike Lee is
wearing Sprewell's jersey. To the public he is a different man.
But at the time of the trade, all Checketts had to go on was the public view
of Sprewell as an out-of-control violent player who should be kicked out of
basketball, according to many. Checketts visited Sprewell in his Milwaukee
home in the months after the suspension. Impressed with Sprewell's eloquence
and candor, he arranged the trade.
Sprewell claims that he hasn't really changed at all, just the public
perception of him has changed. "I'm glad I was able to turn things
around--it could have easily gone the other way," Sprewell said after a
Knicks practice this past week. "But I think I'm pretty much the same
person. I haven't changed, really. I've just done a good job of keeping my
head above water, and of course I want to stay there."
So what led Sprewell to attack his coach? Rachel Alexander's article in the
Washington Post points the blame at P.J. Carlesimo, who had alienated many
at Golden State even before the choking incident, and by the time he was
fired during the past year, more than half the locker room had turned
against him, according to Alexander. "Spree just beat us to the punch,"
fellow player Donyell Marshall said at the time, referring to himself and
center Adonal Foyle. "I think all three of us were about to crack."
But Alexander doesn't paint a black-and-white picture of Carlesimo either,
noting that he is well-liked by fellow coaches and that he is known as a
gifted coach. He is getting married this summer, and still looking for a new
coaching job while working as a commentator for Fox Sports West.
And Alexander makes clear that two things led to the redemption of Latrell
Sprewell, first, Dave Checketts led the basketball fans in New York to give
him a second chance, "At first, we were all wondering if he was a head
case," said Knicks guard Rick Brunson. "But ... [then we] realized that he
was just a guy in a small market who did one thing that makes big news. Now
he comes to a big market, where they love giving guys second chances. This
is a city that loves to knock you down, but it also loves to pick you back up."
Then, after arriving in New York, Sprewell performed, both on and off the
court. Not only did he help the team reach the finals again, he also went
out of his way to sign autographs and donated $100,000 to the Knicks'
charity foundation, the largest single gift the organization has received.
"Me being able to go out and perform and do well on the court is a big
reason why I'm having the success that I'm having," he said. "It's that
simple. If I didn't do well here, the whole thing would be just opposite.
I'd be sitting on the bench, and everyone would be talking about how stupid
the Knicks were to get me. They'd all be saying how I'm difficult and that I
haven't changed at all. I'm just glad it didn't turn out that way."