A Tarnished Reputation
During the 1994-95 season, Sprewell, who was having trouble forgiving the Warriors' management for trading away friends Chris Webber and Billy Owens, was twice suspended during the season for conduct deemed detrimental to the team. Yet, because his play on the court remained impressive, the Warriors agreed to a four-year contract in 1996 worth $32 million. During the 1996-97 season, Sprewell averaged over twenty-four points per game and was the Western Conference's leading scorer in the 1996 NBA All-Star game, with nineteen points. Despite Sprewell's efforts, the Warriors were floundering badly at the beginning of the 1997-98 season, and Sprewell's frustration erupted into a career altering confrontation with his coach, P.J. Carlesimo.
Sprewell did not react positively to Carlesimo's in-your-face coaching style and made known openly his lack of respect for his coach. Carlesimo benched Sprewell during a blowout against the Los Angeles Lakers early in the season because Sprewell refused to stop laughing during a timeout. Two days after that incident, Sprewell was tossed out of practice for ignoring Carlesimo's instructions. Then in November, Sprewell was fined for missing the arrival deadline for a game. Two days later during practice, after being reprimanded for his lackluster effort, Sprewell physically attacked Carlesimo when the coach tried to approach him. Reportedly Sprewell grabbed Carlesimo by the throat, demanded to be traded, and threatened to kill him if he wasn't. Pulled off by other players, Sprewell removed himself to the locker room but returned to the court fifteen minutes later and once again lunged at Carlesimo, this time punching him in the neck, a charge the Sprewell later denied.
Initially the team responded to the incident by suspending Sprewell for ten games, but then decided to terminate his $32 million contract for failing to abide by the basic conduct clause of the player agreement. After losing the last three years of a contract valued at nearly $25 million, Sprewell was then suspended from basketball for one year by NBA Commissioner David Stern. Sprewell also lost an endorsement contract with Converse. After the NBA players' association filed a grievance on behalf of Sprewell, arguing that the punishment was too harsh, the matter went before an arbitrator who eventually ruled that the Warriors could not terminate Sprewell's contract and reduced the suspension to the remainder of the 1997-98.
Sprewell did not help redeem his image when he was arrested three days before the arbitration decision for reckless driving, after being in a car accident that injured two people. In an out-of-court settlement, Sprewell was fined $1,000 and sentenced to three months home detention and two years probation. Although he apologized publicly to fans and supporters for his behavior, Sprewell did not allow the matter to drop. He filed suit against the NBA for anti-trust and civil rights violations, suing the league for $30 million; however, the suit was thrown out in July of 1998 by a federal judge.