At those two stops Sprewell blossomed into a star only in his final year. He never had to deal with the role of star player and team spokesman, at least not for very long. He was seldom in the spotlight, never the player who had reporters crowd around his locker night after night, and he made it clear that he never wanted to be that player. On those rare occasions when he has talked at length about himself, he has often mentioned the effect that the trade of Webber, the charismatic forward who'd clashed with Nelson, had on him, saying that Webber dealt with fame and its pressures far better than he did. Perhaps Sprewell went into such a funk after the Webber deal because he knew that with his friend gone, he was one giant step closer to that spotlight.
It eventually found him, after the Warriors had removed all the other candidates. Nelson resigned under pressure when Golden State struggled. Hardaway was traded to the Miami Heat, largely because of his inability to get along with Sprewell. Tom Gugliotta, who came to the Warriors from the Washington Bullets in the Webber deal, floundered, unable to fit into an offense in which Sprewell dominated the ball. Gugliotta was eventually traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he became an All-Star, for Donyell Marshall. Meanwhile, the Warriors gave Sprewell the $32 million contract in 1996 under the regime of general manager Dave Twardzik and coach Rick Adelman, both of whom were fired after last season, and it became clear that he had been chosen as the franchise player.
That is what Carlesimo found when he took over as Warriors coach this season—a team built around a player who had been moody and mysterious most of his career, who had clashed repeatedly with teammates and coaches and who had never shown the capacity or the inclination to be the cornerstone of the franchise. In retrospect, an explosion was inevitable, although no one could have predicted it would be so violent and far-reaching.
Warriors management made a critical error in choosing Sprewell to be the team's foundation, and it may be that a lighter touch by Carlesimo would have kept matters from reaching the boiling point. Some sympathy should be reserved, also, for a young man placed in a role he neither wanted nor was prepared for. But none of that diminishes the shameful nature of Sprewell's act. "I don't think people need to know that much about my private life," he said at that 1994 All-Star Game. "I just want to be judged on what I do on the court." Sadly, he has gotten his wish.