Sprewell wins measure of retribution on the court

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The Independent Online

Latrell Sprewell got what he wanted out of his bitter reunion with coach P J Carlesimo.

Latrell Sprewell got what he wanted out of his bitter reunion with coach P J Carlesimo.

"I finally got to come back here and play," Sprewell said after leading the New York Knicks past Golden State 86-79 Saturday night in his first game against the Warriors since choking Carlesimo two years ago.

"It was an uphill battle for me and a struggle for my family the whole time. To be able to come back and get this victory meant a lot."

Sprewell, who in the days leading up to the game had said he wanted to "crush" and "kill" his old team, returned to a volatile reception. He was as much the target of derisive chants and jeers as support and cheers from the divided crowd in the packed Oakland Arena.

"He handled himself well," teammate Marcus Camby said. "He knew what kind of environment he was in. All he wanted to do was win.

"We knew how much it meant for Spree. We wanted to win for him. But it's not over. We get them again in two weeks in New York. I'm sure it's going to be just as wild then."

Sprewell ignored Carlesimo throughout the game, spurning a chance for a conciliatory gesture during introductions. At another point, annoyed by a persistent heckler, he yelled at him to be quiet, then pointed at the scoreboard.

Carlesimo had expressed hopes of talking with Sprewell and perhaps even shaking hands in hopes of bringing some semblance of closure to a festering wound. But Sprewell didn't approach Carlesimo at midcourt before the game, remaining beneath the Knicks' basket after the introductions. Carlesimo finally walked back to his bench.

"There's no obligation on his part to do that," Carlesimo said. "If the opportunity was there, I would have been happy to shake his hand. But he can do whatever he wants. It's not like he didn't do the right thing."

Sprewell said a meeting with Carlesimo just wasn't to be on this night but suggested it could occur in time.

"I think if we saw each other, we could have gotten past everything, said hello and moved on but that didn't happen," Sprewell said.

Sprewell finished with 14 points on 6-of-17 shooting, including a thunderous dunk near the end of the game that he celebrated by running past the Warriors bench.

"That was the highlight of my night," Sprewell said. "I didn't say anything. I just wanted to show them I was here, make a little eye contact with everybody on the team."

The tension-filled game put Sprewell and Carlesimo together on a basketball court for the first time since the confrontation that stigmatized the star guard and put Carlesimo's sometimes abrasive coaching style on trial.

Sprewell lost about $6 million in wages while serving a 68-game suspension that followed the 1 December 1997, assault at the Warriors practice facility.

But his career, saved by a long arbitration process, is back on track with the Knicks, who acquired Sprewell in a January trade that sent John Starks, Terry Cummings and Chris Mills to Golden State.

Last season, Sprewell helped the Knicks reach the NBA Finals and they recently signed him to a $61.8 million contract, marking a dramatic turnaround to a career that was on the brink of ruin.

For all of that, both Carlesimo and Sprewell concede they will forever be linked by one awful moment.

"I don't think it's ever going to be over," Carlesimo said. "I think it is another step toward putting it in the background. I think with each successive game it will be less and less of a story. I hope so."

Sprewell said seeing Carlesimo on the court helped ease some of his smoldering anger and frustration but it's not gone and probably never will be.

"I don't think it's ever going to die and I think he's accepted the same thing," Sprewell said.

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