By Michael Roberson, For The African-American Athlete,
To say Latrell F. Sprewell had a rollercoaster ride of a career, would absolutely be more than an understatement. The “F” stands for Fontaine, not an expletive. Was he driven out of the NBA?
Spree went from playground star, brief high school participant, juco player, 3rd fiddle @ D1 school, underdog NBA Draftee, All-Pro & All-Star, Car Rim & Shoe Rep, trendsetter, pariah, comeback hero, greedy/stubborn, financial fool, to a man just chilling in his hometown.
Latrell was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 46 years ago this September. He spent a portion of his youth in the “Brew City” before his family moved to Flint, Michigan. After his parents separated, Spree and his mother returned to the other side of Lake Michigan, just in time for him to begin his sophomore year of high school.
Sprewell enrolled into Washington High, a school with famous alumni: Commissioner Bud Selig, Senator Herb Kohl, WI Governor Lee Dreyfus and the Late Actor Gene Wilder. The boys basketball team also happened to be the defending WIAA State Champions; however, Latrell decided not to join the squad and help them repeat their significant accomplishment.
Instead, Spree honed his skills on the indoor/outdoor courts around the “Cream City,” primarily in the Sherman Park area. Which coincidentally happens to be the epicenter of the uprising or rioting in Milwaukee, August 2016, after a police involved fatal shooting that left a reported/believed suspect, Sylville Smith, dead on the street.
The Purgolders did not win back to back titles that season, but did bring the trophy back from Madison to the Purple & Gold campus the following year, 1987.
As Latrell advanced to his Senior year of secondary education, there was a major change in the school’s athletic department.
This defending state championship team would be attempting to repeat with a new head coach, upon the retirement of Clyde Rusk, after a long tenure and bringing two trophies in three years to the 2500 block of North Sherman Boulevard.
James Gordon took over the helm as the leader of the Purgolders. Although Gordon was a teacher and previous assistant coach (years prior) at Washington High, he was simultaneously the head boys basketball coach for a crosstown rival, Rufus King High.
Gordon won the 1984 WIAA State Championship with an undefeated Generals squad, a year before the Purgolders won their first crown.
Now with an additional and more prominent position on the campus, Coach Gordon decided to convince the wiry teenager to join his team.
Not only did Spree signup with the champs, but he led them back to the state tournament in Madison. Unfortunately, the guys lost in the quarterfinals, once again unable to repeat.
Despite scoring 28ppg, and performing on a high powered prep troupe, Latrell didn’t get any significant college offers. Not having the best academic record also may have contributed to the lack Division 1 interest.
Latrell took his still raw abilities south to Missouri. Three Rivers Community College is where he played for two years, and parlayed that into an invitation to the University of Alabama.
While in Tuscaloosa, Spree joined James “Hollywood” Robinson and future NBA clutch-shooting and 7-time World Champion, Robert Horry. Latrell had a solid junior year, and was All-SEC his senior campaign, with an 18ppg average.
With only a handful of years of organized basketball under his belt, Sprewell was selected 24th in the First Round of the 1992 NBA Draft, by the Golden State Warriors.
Latrell had an impactful initial season, averaging 15ppg, and made the All-Rookie Second Team. However, his second year is when he truly arrived, with the distinction of earning First Team All-NBA and Second Team All-Defensive honors, with the assistance of teammate and 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year, Chris Webber.
The next four years in Oakland Spree was a Top Tier player in the Association, as well as an off-court celebrity, until everything changed in 1997.
Increasing frustrations with roster moves and a new head coach, an imperfect storm formed on the 1st of December, during Warriors’ practice.
P.J. Carlesimo apparently yelled at Spree, and he snapped back. The two confronted each other, and he reportedly choked his coach. He is said to have gone into the locker room and returned a short time later, to go after P.J. again.
Latrell was suspended 10 games without pay. Later the Warriors voided his contract, and the NBA expelled him for a year.
Sprewell challenged the sanctions, and the suspension was reduced to the rest of the season, while his contract was validated.
The 1998-99 NBA season did not get underway at the usual time, due to the lockout by the owners. Sprewell remained idle until the Warriors traded him to the Knicks in February, shortly after the dispute ended and the games got underway.
Even with the backlash aimed at the 6’5″ shooting guard, he took New York City by storm. So much so, Spree regained his cultural aura, that seemed to have been lost while he was absent from the Association.
Metro NYC showed big love for the Milwaukeean, as he helped lead the Knickerbockers back to the NBA Finals, since the 1994 appearance. Disappointingly, the Knicks lost to the Spurs in five games, although Spree was huge, with 26ppg during the championship series.
The Knicks did not return to the Finals the rest of his stay in the Big Apple, and he was traded to the Timberwolves, forming a Twin Cities Trio, with Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell.
The Minnesota franchise reached heights it had never been to before, when they made it to the 2004 Western Conference Finals, but lost to the former inhabitant of the city, the Lakers.
Before the 2004-05 season began, the T’Wolves offered Sprewell a contract extension, but at nearly half the annual amount of his current agreement. This of course offended Spree, and so the “I can’t feed my family” sentiment spread like wildfire.
The perception of the Midwesterner, painted him as an ungrateful out of touch athlete, with an uncontrollable violent streak.
Latrell never did sign another NBA contract, effectively ending his 13-year career, although with good statistical evidence (18p, 4r, 4a) of his high level of play. Nevertheless, should it have ended this way?
Spree dealt with a plethora of legal and financial issues post-NBA, but managed to stay afloat.
He has recently been in the spotlight with a Priceline.com commercial, making fun of his trials and tribulations, in addition to appearing on want to be sportscaster, actor, Michael Rappaport’s Podcast, live from Milwaukee.
The middle-aged former baller still calls the beer town home, and seems to be cool with life right now.
(Michael Roberson is a columnist for The African-American Athlete, and co-host of The African-American Athlete Talk Show. He is a graduate of Tennessee State University, and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He lives in the Bay Area, where he watches the ‘Splash Brothers’ rain down threes.)