What the media guide does not say is that Sprewell is a complex man who seems impulsive and hotheaded at times and disturbingly unemotional at others. He has complained of being deeply frustrated by the Warriors' constant losing over the last few years, yet he has also admitted to coasting through some games. The media guide also fails to mention that Sprewell is often selfish and undisciplined on the court. (Said Toronto Raptors coach Darrell Walker last week, "He was already taking all the shots for that team, so what can he be upset about?") And the media guide does not say that Sprewell came to the NBA somewhat naive about the ways of professional sports because he did not grow up as a star athlete or with the dream of being one. It does not say that when he makes a friend, he is fiercely loyal—as he tried to show by inscribing the numbers of his pals Chris Webber and Billy Owens on his sneakers after they were traded by the Warriors in 1994—or that he has little patience for those whom he does not consider friends. He feuded openly with former Golden State coach Don Nelson and ex-Warriors teammate Tim Hardaway, and not so openly with several other Warriors. He has also gone through four agents since he has been in the league.
Although the 6'5", 190-pound Sprewell is described as quiet by most of his teammates and ex-coaches, the incident with Carlesimo is not the first time his temper has exploded. Rony Seikaly, Sprewell's former Warriors teammate who plays for the Orlando Magic, says Sprewell "always seemed to have this hatred inside him. Even though he never got physical with the coaching staff before, I'd seen him do it to other players in practice." Sprewell has had at least two fights with teammates during practice, one with Byron Houston and the other with Jerome Kersey, both of whom outweighed him and both of whom are now ex-Warriors. The scuffle with the muscular Houston in 1993 was surprising because he was about 50 pounds heavier than Sprewell, and his face and physique resembled Mike Tyson's. "No one messed with [Houston]," says Nelson, who last week became coach of the Dallas Mavericks but was the Warriors' coach at the time. "But one day in practice Spre punched Byron three times before Byron knew what was up. Everyone was stunned. He snapped."
Then, two years later, Sprewell and Kersey had an altercation in which Sprewell's behavior was eerily similar to last week's conduct with Carlesimo. After the initial scuffle with Kersey was broken up, Sprewell left and returned a short time later, reportedly with a two-by-four.
Sprewell could also be menacing outside basketball. On Sept. 3, 1995, he was stopped in Oakland for speeding and then arrested for having an outstanding warrant for driving with a suspended license. He was also booked for investigation of threatening a police officer after he reportedly told the arresting officer, "You can be shot real easy, and people get shot out here." The traffic charges were eventually dropped, and prosecutors said they decided against charging Sprewell with threatening the officer because the comments "lacked credibility and immediacy as a righteous threat."
Those outbursts don't fit the picture of Sprewell painted by many of his friends and teammates, past and present. "I think in the two years he played for me, I had one minor incident when he was late for a bus one time," says Arkansas-Little Rock coach Wimp Sanderson, who coached Sprewell during Sprewell's two college seasons at Alabama. "I don't condone what he did, but I don't have anything but good things to say about Spre as far as the time he played for me. He worked hard and stayed out of trouble."
Forward Robert Horry of the Los Angeles Lakers, a teammate at Alabama, remembers Sprewell as a model of good behavior. Sprewell was so concerned about being on time for the team's early-morning practices, according to Horry, that he rigged his clock so that the alarm turned on his cranked-up stereo. Horry also recalls Sprewell's being a calming influence on the team, not a disruptive one, particularly for one of their teammates, Cedric Moore. "Spre kind of took him under his wing," Horry said. "Cedric was a loose cannon. He used to get mad at Wimp, and Spre would keep him from going off."
But sometimes Sprewell's behavior is neither admirable nor deplorable. Sometimes it is just odd. In October 1994 Sprewell's younger daughter, Page, was attacked by one of the four pit bulls he kept at his home in Hayward, just outside Oakland. (She lived there at the time with her mother, Candace Cabbil.) Page, then four years old, had one of her ears severed and suffered bites on her face. Sprewell seemed strangely unaffected, at least outwardly, by the incident. About two months later he was asked about the attack by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Tim Keown, leading to this exchange.
Keown: "It seems it would have to affect you in some way."
Sprewell: "No. Why should it?"
Keown: "Because it was your daughter?"