Latrell Sprewell finally surfaced yesterday, eight days after an attack on his coach cost him his livelihood for a year and wiped out the remaining $25 million of his NBA contract.
Surrounded by a host of attorneys, including Billy Hunter, the head of the National Basketball Players Association, and Johnnie Cochran, Sprewell apologized to Golden State Warriors coach P. J. Carlesimo and said, "I totally accept responsibility for what I've done."
But he also said he believes he has been unfairly cast as the villain and wants desperately to tell his side of the story and return to the NBA.
"I'm a good person and never had any situation like this come up before," Sprewell said at a jammed news conference at the Oakland (Calif.) Convention Center. "I feel 10 years of hard work shouldn't be taken away for one mistake. My career didn't happen overnight and I don't feel it should be taken away overnight."
Sprewell, 27, a three-time All-Star and the Warriors' leading scorer, at first was suspended for 10 games following what witnesses have said were two attacks on Carlesimo, 15 minutes apart, at the team's Dec. 3 practice.
Two days later, the Warriors announced that the remaining three years of Sprewell's four-year, $32 million contract had been terminated for violation of the morals clause.
The following day, NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Sprewell for a full year, by far the harshest suspension in NBA history. The union has filed grievances against the Warriors and the NBA, and the case will go to an arbitrator early next month.
Among Sprewell's objections was that the NBA acted too quickly. Cochran called the one-year suspension "arbitrary and capricious" and said Sprewell was denied due process.
Sprewell did not answer questions, citing advice from his attorneys, who are preparing for the arbitration hearing.
"I have to trust their judgment," he said. "There's a lot at stake for me."
Several Golden State players were present in a show of support for their former teammate, including Brian Shaw, Felton Spencer, Joe Smith, Muggsy Bogues, Bimbo Coles and David Vaughn.
Golden State officials did not comment, and a call to general manager Garry St. Jean went unreturned. However, sources indicated last night that the Warriors acted on their own in terminating Sprewell's contract.
Hunter said he is investigating previous instances of confrontations between players and management. He mentioned that Alvin Robertson of the Pistons assaulted his GM, Billy McKinney, in 1994 and "nothing was done."
In response to a question concerning a player boycott of the All-Star Game suggested by Charles Barkley, who has questioned the severity of the punishment, Hunter said he might "canvass the membership" to see if there's sufficient sentiment for it.