Two of the most famous chokes in NBA history happened within a two-year span from 1995-1997. First, Indiana Pacers forward Reggie Miller famously made the choke sign to filmmaker Spike Lee, who was taunting him all game from his courtside seat, in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Knicks amidst one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Playoff history. The second choke was much more heinous.
It involved Latrell Sprewell, head coach P.J. Carlesimo, and a simple passing drill.
On December 1, 1997, the Golden State Warriors were having a regular practice. The team was 1-13 and looked bad, real bad. First-year Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo, who had arrived from the Portland Trail Blazers, had the group running a passing drill. He demanded Sprewell throw crisper passes. That’s when the basketball player nicknamed “Spree” lost it.
Latrell Sprewell Chokes P.J. Carlesimo
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard approached his coach from across the court, choked him, and threatened to kill him. Teammates and coaches separated the two, and Sprewell was kicked out of practice. He went to the locker room and returned in street clothes 20 minutes later. He attacked Carlesimo again, this time landing a glancing blow on the coach’s right cheek. Members of the coaching staff dragged Sprewell away.
No one knows what set the NBA star off. Maybe it was the dread of the long and painful season he foresaw. Perhaps it was the franchise passing on guys like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Tracy McGrady in the draft. Maybe it was Chris Mullin, Chris Webber, and Tim Hardaway no longer being with the team. Whatever it was, he reached his boiling point.
The Milwaukee native and former Washington High School superstar was initially hit with a 10-game suspension. However, after public outcry, Warriors general manager Garry St. Jean voided the remainder of his contract, which included three-years and $23.7 million. Sprewell’s agent was able to overturn the voiding through arbitration but was suspended by the NBA commissioner David Stern for the rest of the 1997-98 season without pay.
Naturally, Sprewell’s playing days in Oakland were over.
Latrell Sprewell Career
The four-time All-Star was traded to the New York Knicks after the 1999 lockout. He enjoyed success at Madison Square Garden — which included a trip to the 1999 NBA Finals and a massive contract extension — before being dealt to his third and final NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Alabama product led the Wolves to the 2004 Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers alongside Kevin Garnett and point guard Sam Cassell.
Sprewell’s career famously ended in 2005 when he refused a three-year, $21 million contract to remain in Minnesota.
The choking incident is a blemish on Sprewell’s impressive on-court resume. He made the NBA All-Star Game four times, earned a spot on the All-NBA First Team in 1994, and averaged 18.3 points per game over the course of his career.
It’s difficult to ignore the choking incident when discussing Sprewell’s legacy; as it still remains one of the wildest NBA player and coach altercations in basketball history.