Sprewell shows what ails many young black men

March 15, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

IF IT WEREN'T for that guy Michael Jordan, I'd be boycotting the NBA big-time along about now. Eleven days ago, an arbitrator ruled that the NBA had treated the poor, oppressed, misunderstood Latrell Sprewell too harshly. The Golden State Warriors acted too harshly when they suspended Sprewell's contract. NBA Commissioner David Stern was being an old fuddy-duddy when he suspended Sprewell for a year.

Sprewell only choked his coach. In the eyes of the arbitrator, John Feerick, that's not an offense warranting harsh treatment. It should come as no surprise that Feerick is the dean of the Fordham University Law School. Only a lawyer could help Sprewell weasel his way out of this one. Sprewell by himself apparently wasn't quite weasel enough for the job. With guys like Feerick around, there isn't a supervisor in America who can feel safe.

Feerick's decision elicited a torrent of bragging in NBA ranks. Players association Executive Director Billy Hunter trumpeted the decision as a victory for all players. Indeed it is. Players now know they can give their coaches a beat-down and still keep their jobs. They know that coaches are no longer in control. Sprewell choked his coach, P. J. Carlesimo, after Carlesimo ordered him to put some mustard on his passes. Players are now content that Carlesimo has been put firmly in his place.

What Carlesimo should have done -- in the NBA now run by the players -- is walk up to Sprewell, genuflect and say, "This lowly and humble servant kindly requests of the illustrious and magnificent Lord Sprewell that he might consider passing the rock a bit more briskly."

Sprewell is now, understandably, feeling his oats. He denies he choked Carlesimo. He only had his hands around his coach's throat, the better to give him a larynx massage, we are supposed to believe. Apparently harboring some delusion that he is now some sort of personnel manager, Sprewell says he will PTC consider returning to the Warriors only if they sack Carlesimo.

His Eminence does not wish to be traded to a losing team. He has pooh-poohed the notion that he needs some sort of counseling to control his temper before returning to the NBA. Why would a calm, easygoing guy like His Majesty Sprewell need counseling?

Sprewell has clearly been spending too much time in an alternative universe of his own making. He has made but one useful comment since Feerick's decision was handed down. He probably doesn't realize the significance of it, but the rest of us should pay heed. On the "60 Minutes" television show -- in a segment the producers might well have called "Fools Speak Out" -- Sprewell gave the reason for his attack on Carlesimo.

"It was all about the respect factor with me. It was all about P. J. disrespecting me as a man. You don't talk to people the way P. J. talked to me. To have my pride and my respect and my manhood means more to me than any dollar amount."

Everybody got that? Pride. Respect. Manhood. Make that a warped, distorted sense of pride, respect and manhood. There are too many black men in the cemetery today because of pride, respect and manhood. Blacks don't like to talk about the horrible homicide rate among our young men. It's considered airing dirty linen in public and, besides, spoils our desire to be perpetual victims. But this is the truth: Many of the problems faced by young black men, the "crisis" we all keep talking about, is that there is a culture among young black men that puts a distorted emphasis on pride, respect and manhood.

Sprewell has unwittingly admitted it. He choked Carlesimo for disrespecting him. He can't be talked to in just any old way. That's a challenge to his manhood. That's why he came back within minutes of choking Carlesimo looking to get another piece of the man.

In that sense, both Carlesimo and Sprewell are lucky. On the streets, this confrontation would have been played out differently. Guns or knives might have been pulled, and the incident might have concluded with one of them dead. Sprewell's denial that he needs counseling mirrors the larger denial within black America that it is the black man's code of honor, macho, pride and respect that makes for the disproportionate black-on-black homicide rate, for more young black men being in jail than in college and for black boys nationwide having problems academically.

Wiser people than Sprewell have already pointed this out. It would be the most curious of ironies if we started taking heed now that the utterance has come from the mouth of a fool.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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