SI Vault
June 01, 1998
The Sprewell Suit His Daze in Court
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June 01, 1998


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The Sprewell Suit
His Daze in Court

Latrell Sprewell is every lawyer's I dream client: dense, defiant and rich. Not content with the March 4 ruling handed down by an arbitrator that reduced his suspension for throttling his coach on the Golden State Warriors, P.J. Carlesimo, Sprewell filed suit on May 20 against the Warriors and the NBA, charging that he had been punished unfairly. How unfairly? The suit, which accuses the team and the NBA of civil rights and antitrust violations, asks for $30 million to cover lost wages and suffering.

The Warriors have declined to comment, but the NBA released a statement labeling the suit "a poorly disguised reargue claims that have already been an arbitrator."

Sprewell was originally suspended for a year by the NBA following his Dec. 1 attack on Carlesimo, and he was dumped by Golden State, which voided the remaining three years and $23.7 million of his $32 million contract. But arbitrator John Feerick later ruled that the penalties were excessive and ordered that Sprewell be reinstated by the Warriors and that the suspension end on July 1.

That wasn't good enough for Sprewell, who says he's tired of being "demonized." Despite the rhetoric of his attorneys, Robert Gist and Robert Thompson Jr., Sprewell's case is preposterous. The suit is merely a repackaging of the claims Sprewell made during the nine-day arbitration hearing. Feerick ruled on every one in his 106-page opinion, and, according to the league's collective-bargaining agreement, both sides are barred from revisiting the claims. So unsupportable is the suit, in fact, that Sprewell's agent, Arn Tellem. and the National Basketball Players' Association, which stood by Sprewell early in his case, have refused to have anything to do with this legal outing.

Even if Sprewell's suit is destined for early dismissal, Litigious Latrell still has a reckless-driving case—the result of a March 1 incident in which he lost control of his Mercedes at 90 mph on a California freeway and crashed into another car—to keep him in court He faces criminal charges, as well as possible suits from the driver and a passenger in the other car, who sustained minor injuries in the accident. The criminal case is set to go to trial on June 23, with the prosecutors insisting on jail time. (Their latest plea offer was 90-120 days.) Sprewell would be better off putting his legal muscle into settling with the crash victims and heading off a jail term than in filing a vindictive suit against the NBA.

Investigation in Vegas
Racial Slurs Alleged at UNLV

For two years rumors have swirled at UNLV that athletic director Charles Cavagnaro has made derisive remarks about black and female Rebels athletes. Last Thursday, Kwasi Nyamekeye, the assistant general counsel to Nevada's Board of Regents, wrapped up a two-and-a-half-week inquiry into the rumors, during which he interviewed three dozen past and present employees of the athletic department. While Nyamekeye's findings won't be released until next week at the earliest, one former employee interviewed told SI that he twice heard Cavagnaro make racist statements.

The source, who left UNLV on good terms last summer after two years in the school's marketing department, says that while he was riding in a car with Cavagnaro in May 1996, Cavagnaro mentioned a wide receiver on the Rebels football team who had been suspended the previous fall. "Out of the blue," the source recalls, "he asked, 'Whatever happened to that Kwame Coleman kid? Did he go back to the jungle?' " Before a staff meeting in November '96, the source says, Cavagnaro was chatting to several people about a preseason workout of the UNLV basketball team. "He asked out loud, 'Y'all see that Eric Lee? He got up on that rim like a monkey,' " the source says.

Similar remarks, including Cavagnaro's allegedly having called the Rebels' female soft-ball players "dykes in spikes," have been attributed to him by other unnamed sources quoted in the Las Vegas media. Cavagnaro, who was the athletic director at Memphis for 12 years before coming to UNLV in August 1995, didn't return phone calls from SI, but he has admitted elsewhere using the word gorilla in reference to a basketball player while at Memphis. "It had nothing to do with color, nothing to do with race," Cavagnaro told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Here I am defending myself, and, hell, I don't know where or why this all started."

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