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Suspended NBA player apologizes, questions severity of penalty

December 10, 1997

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ It was one moment of anger, and Latrell Sprewell apologized for it and for attacking his coach. That said, the fired basketball star made it clear he believes he’s a victim, too.

``I am a good person and I’ve never had any situation like this come up before,″ Sprewell said Tuesday in his first public statement since the Golden State Warriors fired him and the National Basketball Association suspended him for a year for choking and threatening coach P.J. Carlesimo during practice Dec. 1.

``I feel 10 years of hard work shouldn’t be taken away for one mistake,″ said Sprewell. ``My career didn’t happen overnight and I don’t feel it should be taken away overnight.″

Sprewell, 27, admitted last week he was wrong and apologized to fans. But he did not apologize to Carlesimo at the time, saying the coach provoked the attack with verbal abuse.

Even in his public apology, he said he felt he had been treated unfairly.

``I’ve been vilified,″ said Sprewell, who was advised not to answer questions during the news conference because of pending arbitration. ``Every time I look at a clip it’s always a picture of me looking mad and being aggressive. It was always negative. I felt that was unfair.″

Sprewell, who said he apologized to Carlesimo by telephone Sunday, repeated it for the public: ``I know this conduct is not acceptable in society and professional sports. I accept responsibility for what I’ve done.″

The incident has sparked national debate over sportsmanship, authority figures, race and role models. The Warriors terminated the three-time All-Star’s contract a week ago, costing him $25 million of a $32 million, four-year contract he signed in 1996.

The NBA’s banishment was its longest ever for a non-drug offense.

``The question here is about fundamental fairness to Latrell Sprewell,″ said Johnnie Cochran Jr., the attorney who successfully defended O.J. Simpson against murder charges. ``Is the penalty consistent with the mistake that he made? We think not.″

``This man really was deprived of any kind of due process,″ said Cochran, who joined Sprewell and several other players at the news conference. ``Nobody heard from him at all. That’s not the American way.″

Houston Rockets forward Charles Barkley said some players may boycott the NBA All-Star game or the World Championships in Greece if the league doesn’t ease the punishment.

``I think I’d have great support for a boycott,″ Barkley said. ``I’ve talked with several players about it. ... If we don’t make a stand, it’s going to be bad.″

Barkley, who has been suspended for everything from flagrant fouls to fighting, declined to name the players he contacted.

The NBA Players’ Association has filed grievances against the NBA and the Warriors, arguing the penalties are excessive. The case will be heard no sooner than Jan. 4 by an arbitrator.

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