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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended May 21, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 24May00

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."


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