Latrell Sprewell, who has a flair for the spectacular, especially as it regards punishment, was fined $250,000 Monday and this time he hadn't even hit anyone.
Sprewell, who lost $6.4 million while under suspension during the 1997-98 season for choking Golden State Warrior Coach P.J. Carlesimo, was fined by the New York Knicks for failing to report a broken bone in his right hand.
It is believed to be the largest fine assessed a player by an NBA team. In addition, the Knicks said Sprewell would remain banished from their camp in Charleston, S.C., until he could make what team President Scott Layden called "a positive contribution."
Players are seldom--if ever--fined for failing to make timely reports on their physical conditions. The team's hard line was even more surprising, since Sprewell had rehabilitated his image since the Carlesimo incident, having become a popular team leader in four Knick seasons.
The fine was announced at a news conference in New York by Layden, reportedly trembling as he delivered the edict.
"Frankly, we've tried other things and we're going to try something different this time," Layden said. "He's a member of this organization and we want to get it right, OK? We have not been able to get it right so far."
Sprewell left without comment and his agent, Robert Gist, said he would contest the fine.
The Knicks opened camp last week with a media day at their training facility in Purchase, N.Y., then were embarrassed to learn that Sprewell would need surgery, would miss the entire exhibition season and perhaps as much as a month of the season.
The same day, they also learned that starting center Kurt Thomas had been arrested by police in Greenwich, Conn., and charged with assaulting his wife.
Even for the Knicks, this was a bad start, made worse by a New York Post report--denied by Sprewell--that he hadn't just "banged" his hand, as he told the team, but had thrown a punch at a guest on his yacht during a cruise off New York and had hit a wall.
Sprewell has not said what happened. He said he hadn't notified the team until Sept. 29, the day before camp opened, only because he hadn't realized until then that the injury was serious .
The Knicks were sympathetic or noncommittal at first.
Said Coach Don Chaney, "You've got to understand who we're dealing with. We're dealing with probably the toughest player on our team. So he's not going to complain about anything."
Layden, however, barred Sprewell from joining his teammates, even if only to watch, as camp moved to Charleston.
Monday, a week after camp had opened, Sprewell met with Layden, Chaney and Madison Square Garden executive Steve Mills for about 20 minutes in New York. The Knicks then announced the fine.
Sprewell then called players' union director Billy Hunter, who told the Associated Press the player was upset.
"He feels he's being scapegoated for the problems that are confronting the Knicks," said Hunter, citing "the diminished value of Cablevision stock, the offloading and sale of Cablevision's assets and resources, the issue of season-ticket holders and the depletion of the 6,000-name waiting list, and the fact that they weren't able to make significant trades to upgrade the team."
Sprewell often is late, arriving 60 minutes before games rather than the prescribed 90. However, he was never disciplined as he developed into one of the team's stars. He became a particular favorite of the press corps for his blunt assessments of the scene, which for the Knicks has been deteriorating.
For all four seasons as a Knick, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Sprewell has played forward in small lineups to accommodate the presence of another shooting guard, Allen Houston. However, the Knicks spent the off-season trying to add size, acquiring Denver's Antonio McDyess. They also reportedly shopped Sprewell but got no takers.
Hunter said the union would appeal. In 1998, he backed Sprewell and an arbitrator cut several months off the suspension levied by Commissioner David Stern.
With or without his $250,000, Sprewell's days in New York seem numbered.