"Punctuality," said Louis XVIII, "is the politeness of kings." But modern Kings (and Knicks and Mavericks and Hawks) can dispense with such courtesy; their divine rights exceed those of mere monarchs. An NBA star is more manored—and less mannered—than any 17th-century sovereign. So, when Latrell Sprewell (salary: $9.1 million) declined to attend the New York Knicks' training camp, failed to tell his employers where he was, didn't return their telephone calls and finally rolled up to a practice a week late, in a Mercedes, which he left in a no parking zone, he had very little explaining to do.
Not to the Knicks, anyway. They will probably give Sprewell a $70 million contract extension and wouldn't want to ruffle his cornrows. Rather, Spree had to face the only people (outside a court of law) who can still ask an athlete to account for his actions: Those impertinent peons, that polyestered pestilence—the sporting press. Why, those wretches wondered, didn't Sprewell attend camp, or at least tell the Knicks where he was? This is what Sprewell said:
"That's what agents are for. There was no particular reason. I really didn't call anybody. I'm not denying I didn't call them back I just didn't. I thought my agent knew. But it's not like I told him.... I'm not blaming him; it's on me. I didn't really communicate to anybody. It's like, I'll get there. I'll be there." Then the man who ditched camp concluded, "It was not like I'm ditching camp."
Sprewell, meet Orwell, who wrote: "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity."
A Knicks season-ticket holder once remarked that "Eighty percent of success is showing up." But Woody Allen ought to know better. The true sign of success is not showing up. The real stars of the Show are the No-Shows.
Punctuality no longer flies. Neither, for that matter, does Sprewell, who was driving from Oakland to New York while his teammates endured two-a-days. Nor, come to think of it, does Isaiah Rider, whose late arrival to the Atlanta Hawks' camp in Chattanooga was caused by his refusal to board a flight from Oakland. "What happened?" asked his ink-stained inquisitors a day later. Rider explained that he doesn't do "crop-duster" flights. While the plane in question was actually a commuter jet, you have to hand it to the queasy Rider, who understands that when speaking to the press, the best explanation is indignation.
At 6'8" and 275 pounds, Gary Trent brings to the Dallas Mavericks what basketball announcers call a "presence." He also brings what schoolteachers call an "absence." When the Mavs re-signed the power forward to a two-year, $4.2 million contract in August, the team held a news conference to announce his return. Everyone involved showed up except Trent, who finally surfaced last month for an informal workout, where he dissed his employers to The Dallas Morning News. "I'm very disappointed with them for making me look like I didn't show up, for making me look bad," said Trent. "There was nothing to talk about. I signed a two-year deal, and that was that. I didn't sign a [maximum] deal, so there was nothing to have a press conference about."
At a time when everyone in sports thinks everyone else is deliberately trying to make him look bad—"Don't show me up!" a National League umpire could be seen mouthing during a New York Mets game the other day—Trent became the first athlete to feel shown up for failing to have shown up.
But in fact, he should be grateful for this star-making turn. In NBA circles everybody knows: You haven't arrived until you haven't arrived.