You can't hit the coach Basketball: NBA right to punish player who assaulted coach, but should have held hearing.

December 07, 1997

THE OUTRAGEOUS behavior of too many players led the National Basketball Association to suspend Latrell Sprewell, the Golden State Warriors all-star who assaulted his coach. But the NBA undercut its own decision by not allowing Mr. Sprewell to be heard. The league subsequently lost the earlier support of the NBA Players Association for sanctions against Mr. Sprewell. It also opened the door for a possible reversal of its action by an arbitrator.

Not even Mr. Sprewell has said he should be let off without punishment for trying to choke Coach P.J. Carlesimo. It was an egregious, criminal act and should be punished harshly. The Warriors did just that by terminating Mr. Sprewell's $32 million contract. The player's association didn't object to the team's decision, but the union was angered by the NBA's refusal to let Mr. Sprewell come in to tell his side of the story. "Don't bother, we've already made our decision," deputy commissioner Russ Granik reportedly said.

The one-year league suspension of Mr. Sprewell will be compared to the NBA's decision not to censure Detroit Pistons guard Alvin Robertson when he assaulted a team executive in 1993. Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Van Exel and Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman were suspended only seven and six games, respectively, last season for striking referees. The NBA was right to punish Mr. Sprewell more severely. But by not granting a hearing to an established player who has never been in trouble before now, the league devalued the legitimacy of its decision.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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