The Choke Heard ‘Round The World: A Faux-ral History of the P.J. Carlesimo Strangling by Latrell Sprewell
By: Jesse Taylor/ @GSW_JesseTaylor
WARNING: What follows contains explicit content. It’s also complete bullshit. I made the whole thing up. It’s a spoof. But it would be so dope if this really happened. Enjoy.
“Strangling the very life out of somebody with your bare hands is the most violent act a human being can commit. Also, only humans strangle, opposable thumbs being a quite important part of the endeavor. You really have to bring your strength, and you have to really be committed, to actually strangle the life out of somebody, to crush their larynx and just squeeze every drop of life out of them.”-QUENTIN TARANTINO
February 9, 1997: The last time the Golden State Warriors had an All-Star
December 1, 1997: The day that same All-Star choked out of his coach
This is a fake oral history (a “faux-ral history” if you will) of the choke heard ‘round the world – the infamous moment when Latrell Sprewell took his hands and wrapped them around P.J. Carlesimo’s neck, yelling, “I’ll kill you!” as he squeezed as tight as he could in an effort to destroy the coach he despised so much. Carlesimo survived the attack, and the one that followed roughly 15 minutes later after Sprewell had showered and supposedly cooled off. All of this led to Sprewell receiving what was at the time the longest suspension for a player in NBA history – 68 games.
After making his third NBA All-Star appearance with the Warriors following a season where he averaged a career-high 24.2 points and 6.2 assists, life seemed great for one Latrell Fontaine Sprewell. He just finished the first year of a new 4-year $32 million contract and was ready to begin his sixth NBA season.
But prior to the season’s start, the Warriors fired Sprewell’s favorite head coach, Rick Adelman, after winning just 36 and 30 games, respectively, in two years. They brought in P.J. Carlesimo, who was succeeding Adelman for the second time. A former college coaching legend notorious for being rough around the edges with his players, Carlesimo was fired by Portland despite three playoff seasons in three years. His first move with the Warriors was to select Colgate’s Adonal Foyle over high school phoneme Tracy McGrady in the 1997 NBA Draft. Several other moves followed as the Warriors added GM Garry St. Jean and traded away veterans Chris Mullin, Mark Price and B.J. Armstrong.
Here’s a fictitious account on how those involved would tell the story from here.
Mark Price: Please, if you don’t mind, I’d rather you not ask for a comment about this from me. The Warriors, praise Jesus, displaced me to the Magic right before the season started.
Chris Mullin: Ayyeee yo, don’t luhmp me indah dis shit. My ass got traded in August. Foh’ Ehhhh-rick fookin’ Dahhhmp-hereee ovah hereee!! Hands like fuhkin’ stone. Whoa! Fuh-get about it!
B.J. Armstrong: I got traded on November 7, b—-. Leave me outta this.
Felton Spencer: It was a bit of a recipe for disaster from the beginning of training camp. I mean, the only veteran leader we had on the team was named “Bimbo.”
Bimbo Coles: Man, f— Felton Spencer. I don’t care if my name was Michael Jordan, nobody could have helped this team. We had a mad man being tormented by a man even madder than him. P.J. was like the priest throwing holy water on that possessed girl in “The Exorcist.” Instead of spinning his head around and throwing up on P.J., Spree choked his ass.
Joe Smith: I was just starting my third season. Erick Dampier and Todd Fuller were beginning their second. Foyle was a rookie. Donyell Marshall was just collecting a paycheck. We traded for Muggsy Bogues and Brian Shaw right when the season was starting, but it was too late by then for them to really make an impact.
Marshall: Spree wasn’t feelin’ P.J. from the jump. I mean, Spree had been through a lot in his first five seasons. Several coaching changes, tons of player movement; including seeing some of his best friends get traded away like Billy Owens and Chris Webber. Rick was a player’s coach and Spree really liked him. And now some dude comes in with an iron fist, trying to dictate things to Spree and give him attitude? Spree wasn’t havin’ it.
Carlesimo: I really don’t get what Latrell’s problem was. I was telling him the same type of stuff I’d always tell Andrew Gaze at Seton Hall, and Andrew never gave me problems.
Andrew Gaze: I hated P.J., but what was I gonna do? He threatened to sheep me beck dawn undah whenevah I gave ‘em ayney lip. So I played eet cool.
Sprewell: I was all the Warriors had and everybody knew it. Go down the list. Adonal Foyle – nerd. Erick Dampier – sorry. Donyell Marshall – soft. Felton Spencer – stiff. Todd Fuller – bitch. And Joe Smith, he was my boy and all, but dude just wasn’t getting it done.
Spencer: Joe Smith actually had a lot of talent. His problem was that he tried to keep up with Spree off the court. Not many people could do what Spree was doing and play a basketball game the next day.
Smith: Yeah, I was Spree’s wingman or whatever you want to call it. I really didn’t know what I was getting into. He’d be out until 5 a.m., drinking at least“Strangling the very life out of somebody with your bare hands six 40s of Ol’ E a night, putting bad things into his body, sleeping with several women at a time, driving 145 down the freeway. If I knew all this ahead of time, I probably would have stayed away from him. But once I was with him my rookie year, I was kind of stuck – too afraid of him to ever tell him I couldn’t go out anymore.
Marshall: A lot of NBA players carry guns. But Latrell Sprewell is the only one that would actually shoot somebody. And I think Joe was scared to death of him. Shit, all of us were. Dude was crazy. Poor Joe would show up to practice and games so f—ed up from hanging with Spree he could barely play. But Spree would show up like he had gotten a full eight hours of rest and had been drinking protein shakes all night. I have no idea how he was able to brush off all the alcohol and whatever else he was putting in his body. Maybe he was immune to it or somethin’. But not Joe.
Sprewell: I’ve always made it a point to be the baddest motherf—er in the room. A lot of times that was a challenge. I had to go through some battles to get that title from guys like Tim Hardaway, Byron Houston and Jerome Kersey. But with this Warriors team? It was so easy.
Foyle: Sprewell thought I was a dork and didn’t really have anything to do with me. I guess I was lucky in that respect. I enjoy a nice glass of wine just like anyone else, but only after my studies. Actually, someone in my study group once brought some marijuana over and we smoked it out of one of my authentic Native American smoking pipes after an all-night cramming session. We totally got crazy; reenacting scenes from “Ordinary People.” It was so hilarious. I played Conrad, you know, Timothy Hutton’s character, and I totally ended up making out with the girl who played Mary Tyler Moore’s character, Beth, which was Conrad’s mom in the movie. Everyone was all like, “Ooh, you guys, that’s sooooo gross!!”
Sprewell: Foyle’s lucky I didn’t take a soap-bar filled pillow case to his belly every time he fell asleep on the team plane. Joe was the only dude on the team I could hang with. I mean, really, can you see me at the club with Todd Fuller?
Fuller: I actually tried going out with the guys one time. I wore my nice acid-washed Levi’s with an N.C. State sweatshirt to the disco club. The only dance I knew was the “Achy Breaky Heart,” so when the rapper hip-hop cultural music came on I busted out my Billy Ray Cyrus moves. Latrell had security throw me out.
Spencer: P.J. knew Spree was staying out late and getting into trouble. He wanted him to be more of a leader, so he was always pushing him harder than everyone else. Telling Spree he needed to work harder and be a better example. But you can’t force Spree to do nothin’ he doesn’t want to do. It just makes him revolt even more.
Sprewell: I just didn’t like the guy. He was annoying. Got on my nerves. I mean, Rick was cool as a coach. We got along great. So I go from a great player’s coach to a guy who comes in right away and starts pushing my buttons. So I pushed back. I was here first. Had to show him who was boss.
Bogues: I couldn’t believe how rude he was to the coach. I had never seen anything like it. P.J. would be giving us instruction and Spree would just cut him off. Every time P.J. tried to say something, Spree would be like, “Huh! What?! I can’t hear you!” P.J. would get so mad. He said he needed Spree to be a leader, but Spree grabbed his crotch and said, “I need you to suck my c—.”
Foyle: Umm, yeah. Nothing like that ever happened at Colgate. I thought maybe that’s how it was in the NBA. What did I know?
Coles: It was ugly man. But everyone was afraid of Sprewell, so nobody stepped in. We just let it happen.
Bogues: I tried to talk to Spree a few times but it was futile. He just called me an Oompa-Loompa and pushed me out of his way.
Spencer: We lost our first nine games of the season. Spree wasn’t playing up to his normal standards. He just didn’t care.
Sprewell: I was done. I wanted out so bad. I wasn’t trying at all, but was still averaging over 20 a game. Nobody else on the team could score. So in practice, I refused to shoot. Let’s see someone else step up. But they couldn’t. It was a joke.
Matt Steinmetz (Warriors beat writer): The media wasn’t allowed into practice, so we weren’t witnessing any of Sprewell’s antics. But I had my sources inside the team and things started to leak out. Stories about altercations between Sprewell and P.J.
Marshall: We had seen a lotta bad shit in practice. Just disrespectful stuff. But in L.A., the public finally saw it.
On November 9 in Los Angeles en route to a 30-point loss to the Lakers, the team’s seventh straight to open the season, Sprewell openly mocked Carlesimo in the huddle during a timeout, laughing at him as he gave instruction. Carlesimo told him to get serious and Sprewell refused, so Carlesimo took him out of the game. Sprewell stood up and told Carlesimo, “You’re a f—ing joke” in front of everyone.
Coles: After the game, P.J. tried to talk to Spree about it, but Spree just ignored him. Kept telling P.J. to get out of his face or he was going to punch him.
Sprewell: P.J. tried to act tough in front of the team, but then tried to be my boy when it was just me and him. He’d always be sending me messages on my pager, trying to be cool and whatnot. Sending motivational stuff about leadership.
Unnamed Woman from the Oakland Airport Econo Lodge: So one night, Spree is with me and his pager keeps going off. I grab it for him and he tells me it’s just his coach and to ignore it. But I looked at it and it was P.J., sending him all kinds of messages in pager code: 07734 for “Hello.” Then 14 and 221 for “Hi, where are you?” And 220 for “Why haven’t you called?” And then he’d get all mad and be like, “Go to hell” by sending 1134_2_09. But he’d just regret it and end his messages with 17_310707_1 … you know, “I love you.”
Sprewell was fined when he broke team rules by failing to arrive in Salt Lake City for a November 28 game against the Jazz by midnight before game day.
Sprewell: They ain’t got no fun in Utah. Why the f— am I gonna get into that town before midnight for?
This was preceded by a shoot around in Houston on November 22 where he did arrive in town on time.
Sprewell: They got fun in Houston.
Spencer: Coach kicked him out of practice in Houston because he was just sitting around. He refused to do anything. He looked high as hell.
Smith: Even before all that, P.J.’d had enough and was trying to flex his muscle a bit. He benched him at the start of a game against the Pistons. Our team was so bad, Spree still led us in minutes and points (14 points in 36 minutes).
Bogues: That Pistons game was our second straight loss by 30 points.
Steinmetz: Spree stopped talking to the media, but anytime we were allowed in the locker room, he did enough talking to let us know something bad was happening.
Spencer: In front of writers, employees, family, whoever … Spree would be busting raps making fun of P.J.
Smith: Yo, those raps were the worst … and the best! So awkward, but so hilarious. B.I.G.’s double album was huge that year. I remember one Spree freestyle where he was giggin’ off “Kick in the Door”:
P.J.’s reign as the coach gonna be short like Muggsy Bogues / I crush bearded bitches, he bows down like all my hoes / Tries to get in my ass quick fast, like Gregory Lo / Ganis / Keep P.J. out my anus / I’m the hoop phenomenon / Spree Dadda / P.J. ain’t my poppa
Marshall: He’d be like:
P.J.’s going … going … back … back … to college … college.
Coles: The raps and the threats stopped after Spree got fined in Utah. He was just quiet and had this look on his face like he was a ticking time bomb. You could see the explosion coming.
Smith: He pretty much stopped talking for the next few days. He went for 30 in Utah then another good game at home against the Rockets. But he just looked so pissed the whole time doing it. I could tell something was about to happen, so I tried to keep my distance.
The Rockets game took place on Saturday, November 29. It all came to a head in practice two days later on Monday, December 1.
Marshall: We was doing shooting drills, which is like my favorite part of playing basketball. There’s no pressure like in real games. I mean I hated pressure. Did you ever see that UConn game where I had to hit the big free throws, but I choked? That totally sucked. But practice? I was the man in practice.
So anyway, we were doing my favorite drill, which is timed shooting. We had groups of three to four guys at different baskets. One guy shoots and the others pass it back to him. I was shooting and Spree was rebounding with Felton. Felton was talking to the equipment manager and not really rebounding. So Spree was getting all the balls, but was doing his usual lackadaisical shit, lobbing the ball back to me and not really paying attention. But it didn’t matter to me. I was on fire, hitting every single shot.
But P.J. saw it and didn’t like it. He told Spree to put some mustard on his passes. I was like, “Mustard?! Put some butter on that shit – I’m on a roll!”
But Spree didn’t laugh. He looked hung over as usual and was in an awful mood. He told P.J. to leave him alone.
Carlesimo: I told him that if he’d make a proper pass I’d leave him alone.
Sprewell: I told him not to mess with me. But he comes at me again, yelling: “Put some mustard on it Spree!” I refuse and barely roll it back to Donyell. Then P.J. tells me to get out of his face. Kicks me out of practice.
Spencer: All of a sudden, I look over and see Spree charging at P.J. and then grabbing him around the neck.
Mashall: I was like, “Man, this dude is totally killing my vibe over here.” I mean, I was on fire and Spree has to go screw it up by choking the coach? Come on man.
Spencer: At first, I didn’t really think nothing of it. I used to play in Minnesota and kept in touch with all my teammates who were playing with Kevin Garnett. They told me KG choked people all the time. One practice he choked the whole team. So I didn’t think it was big deal.
Coles: I ran over and tried to get Spree off P.J., but he had a death grip around his neck, yelling, “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!”
I couldn’t get Spree off him. I start looking around for guys to help me out. Adonal is standing facing the corner like he’s in Blair Witch saying, “I just want to go home” over and over again. Todd Fuller was nowhere to be seen. I saw a tall white streak run out the door, so that must have been him. Dampier is trying to help, but he has no hands. Every time he grabs Sprewell he just slips right off him. Donyell is still shooting and announcing his own shots like Marv Albert, going, “Yes!” after every make. Finally Muggsy and Felton came over to help.
Rony Seikaly: I was actually on my iPhone when it happened. You know, tweeting out to some of the cool cat-daddy’s I produce dope ass beats for, like DJ Oscar G, aka @DjOscarG. I was like, “Yo, OG money, you get that fresh beat I just sent over from the islands?” And he was like, “Rony, you are the freshest producer my man! You’re beats are so much better than Kanye and Dre’s. Kendrick Lamar should put you on his next album!” And I was like, “Word my home slice.” And then I looked up and saw Sprewell cho–”
Sorry, after publishing this story, my editor informed me Rony Seikaly wasn’t on the Warriors at this time. He duped me into getting into the story so he could promote his new career as a music producer.
Bogues: I climbed up onto Felton’s back and tried to help those guys pry Spree loose from P.J.s neck. We finally got him off and had to hold him on the ground for a while.
Spencer: If he had a gun, Sprewell would have shot him dead. End of story.
Coles: After it seemed like Spree had calmed down a bit, we let him go. Me, Muggsy and Felton walked him to the showers to cool him off.
Foyle: Then coach wants to keep practicing like nothing happened. I had to go track down Todd. I finally found him curled up like a baby in the backseat of his Volkswagen Beetle.
Marshall: P.J. just has us scrimmaging. And by now, I had totally lost my stroke. I couldn’t hit anything. So when Sprewell came back out onto the court, I was kind of glad.
Smith: I should have known he’d come back out. I guess I was just hoping he wouldn’t. But I was there a few years earlier when he fought Jerome Kersey and left the court only to come back later with a 2×4. I mean, where’d he even get a 2×4 from?
Marshall: That Kersey fight? We had Kevin Willis and Mully on the team then. Kevin was able to hold him back from Kersey and disarm the 2×4 from him while Mully talked sense into him. When he came after P.J., it took the whole team to stop him.
Coles: He still got through all of us when he came back after P.J. Was able to slip through and take a swing, hitting P.J. in the face. Not a direct shot, but good enough to make it felt. But we finally restrained him.
Spencer: Then he looks up to the executive office windows upstairs above the court. He starts yelling towards St. Jean, “Get me outta here! Trade me now!”
Foyle: So then he takes off in a full sprint, leaving the court to go upstairs after St. Jean. We were all scared he was going to choke Saint next.
St. Jean: Shiiiiitttt. Choke me? Spree knew better than to come after me. My reputation as a bar-fighting champion growing up back in Southie is legendary.
Sprewell: Yeah, I went up to talk to Saint. But I wasn’t going to try to hurt him. It wasn’t even lunch yet, and dude was already all red in the face, a near empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Red sitting on his desk. Saint was the best.
St. Jean: Was I drunk at the time? Sure. Who cares? I’m drunk right now.
I was talking to Spree’s agent Arn Tellem, trying to figure out what the heck we should do. I mean, by golly, this was some really crazy stuff here. Spree walks in, telling me, “Trade me. Trade me Saint. I can’t take this guy anymore.” When I told him I was talking to Arn about it, he grabbed the phone from me and yelled at Arn to get him out. Then he took the last swig of my Johnnie Walker, threw the bottle against the wall and stormed off.
Marshall: So now practice is over and the media starts coming in. And here’s P.J. with a red face and scratches all over his neck.
Coles: P.J. gives them a “no comment” about his scratches. Then the reporters start asking for Sprewell. They’re putting it together. They know something’s up.
Steinmetz: We didn’t get any answers at practice. So I let a little time go by. You know me. I head out to Oakland’s legendary Mosswood Park and start schooling these kids in the art of shooting threes. I’m getting too old to drive the lane, so now I just spot up for threes. But the thing is … you see … I’m probably one of the game’s best ever shooters. You ever catch me playing a game of horse?
Matt goes on for another 15 minutes about his shooting skills before finally getting back on track.
Matt: After running the court for five straight games, I take a break. Then I call one of my sources on the Warriors. Back then, when I really cared about being a good reporter, I had player and executive sources. I ask one of the players what really happened at practice – how’d P.J. get those catches? He tells me everything.
With word that the story is leaking, the Warriors call a press conference that evening, with St. Jean admitting there was physical contact and announcing that Sprewell would be suspended for at least 10 games.
On December 3, the Warriors terminated the remainder of his $32 million contract. The following day, the NBA suspended him for the rest of the season – 68 games.
The weekend of December 6, Sprewell said he privately apologized to both St. Jean and Carlesimo for his actions. He then held a press conference for the media on December 10, apologizing publicly.
Sprewell: Did I mean it? Hell no. But I needed to get that money back. I got kids to feed. You remember that line right?
Standing behind Sprewell at the press conference in support of their teammate were Joe Smith, Felton Spencer, Muggsy Bogues, Bimbo Coles, David Vaughn and Brian Shaw.
Carlesimo: Sprewell choked me. Then at that press conference, the rest of my players slapped me in the face.
Without Sprewell, the Warriors finished the season with an abysmal 19-63 record. Joe Smith was traded halfway through the season.
The 1998-99 season was delayed due to the NBA lockout. On January 21, 1999 the Warriors traded Sprewell to the New York Knicks for John Starks, Chris Mills and Terry Cummings; finally putting closure on the saga. Sprewell played an NBA game again on February 5, 1999, scoring 24 points as a starter for the Knicks. He played five seasons with the Knicks and two with Minnesota before refusing a 3-year $21 million contract from the Timberwolves. He claimed he needed more money so he could feed his family.
He never played again.
Sprewell: I have no regrets about my NBA career. I still enjoy watching the game. I’m even happy for the Warriors with the way they are playing right now. Mark Jackson is doing a great job coaching the team. But I’d choke that motherf—er too if it came down to it.