Latrell Sprewell, the Golden State Warriors' second-year guard, is also their resident electronics whiz. He's the guy who gets the call when someone's stereo speakers start to crackle or when the VCR won't stop chewing up tapes. No electrical task is too big or too small for the 23-year-old Sprewell, and lately he has even made progress on one of his most difficult challenges in that area—putting his own name up in lights.
On Sunday in Minneapolis, Sprewell played in his first NBA All-Star Game, a milestone that should help him shake off the anonymity that has cloaked his basketball life. Even after a surprisingly good rookie year in which he averaged 15.4 points, Sprewell began this season so little known that his name wasn't included on the All-Star ballot, but the Western Conference coaches corrected that oversight by voting him in as a reserve. They were wise to do so. At the All-Star break Sprewell was leading the Warriors in scoring, with 22.0 points a game, and his performances in two road games just before going to Minneapolis were particularly brilliant. On Feb. 9 he scored 34 points in a 126-116 win over the Charlotte Hornets. The next night he had a career-high 41-point outburst in a 113-105 defeat of the New York Knicks.
Despite Sprewell's All-Star status, broadcasters continue to bungle his first name—he has been called Latrice and Ladell—while public-address announcers still botch his surname, which is pronounced SPREE-well, occasionally turning it into something more like "Sprool." Not that it matters much to him. "During the introductions, if I hear anything close to my name, I just run out there," he says.
Once Sprewell runs out there, Golden State coach Don Nelson can rarely bring himself to call him back to the bench. The 6'5" Sprewell leads the NBA with an average of 44.8 minutes per game, having played the full 48 minutes 12 times. But the iron-man role is not new to him. He led the Warriors in minutes played last season, and as a senior at Alabama he set a school record in the category. "The guy is just tireless," Nelson says. "The amazing thing isn't just that he plays so many minutes, it's that he's got as much energy in the 40th minute as he does in the first." Sprewell's stamina is so remarkable that opponents are probably wondering if he isn't some sort of electronic marvel himself, with wires and circuits instead of flesh and bone under his uniform.
Perhaps he's just making up for lost time. Sprewell didn't play organized basketball until his senior year of high school, when James Gordon, the coach at Washington High in Milwaukee, saw this tall, sinewy teenager with big hands walking down the hallway and urged him to try out for the team. "I had played a lot of pickup ball, but had never given much thought to going out for the team," Sprewell says. Once he did, the pattern was quickly established—he played well, averaging 28 points in his only high school season, but hardly anyone noticed. He wasn't offered a scholarship by any Division I colleges, so he went to Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Mo. After two years there he transferred to Alabama, where he built a reputation as a defensive specialist who wasn't much of a scorer.
He hardly seemed worthy of being the Warriors' first-round draft pick in 1992, No. 24 overall, especially because Golden State badly needed a big man. But the cries of "Latrell who?" didn't last long. Sprewell quickly moved into the starting lineup and soon established himself as the steal of the draft. Although he was the 12th guard chosen, he is the only one of the dozen who has played in an NBA All-Star Game.
"Two years ago I just wanted to make the team, and I think the Warriors just wanted me to develop into a decent player," he says. Now that he has surpassed those modest hopes, Sprewell is more reliable than those electronic gadgets he likes to tinker with. Plug him into the lineup and he runs forever.