League quick to react in wake of brawl

Updated: December 7, 2004, 7:55 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Latrell Sprewell was suspended for one game by the NBA on Tuesday for yelling a sexual vulgarity at a female fan during a game, the latest episode of a player clashing with spectators.

Latrell Sprewell
Minnesota Timberwolves
16 13.2 2.3 1.9 .455 .829

The penalty was harsher than those issued in the past by the league office for on-court outbursts. The NBA has been particularly concerned about conflicts between players and fans following a nasty brawl in Detroit 2½ weeks ago that spilled into the stands.

Sprewell responded to a female heckler with a sexually vulgar term that was clearly picked up by a courtside microphone and broadcast by television stations KTLA in Los Angeles and KSTC in Minnesota.

Commissioner David Stern has said the NBA needs to re-examine what will be tolerated in terms of civil behavior between players and spectators, and Tuesday's penalty issued by league vice president Stu Jackson made it clear that vulgar exchanges won't be.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said league policy prohibits directing obscenities at fans.

"Our policy is that you can't do it," he said. "When you do it, you're going to get suspended."

Sprewell was not present for the Timberwolves' game Tuesday night against Dallas. The team released a statement from general manager Jim Stack.

"As an organization, the Minnesota Timberwolves do not condone its players directing inappropriate language toward fans," Stack said. "The NBA's decision to suspend Latrell Sprewell for one game speaks for itself."

Players' union director Billy Hunter did not return a call seeking comment, and Wolves coach Flip Saunders and most of his players refused to answer questions on the subject before Tuesday night's game.

Minnesota union representative Ervin Johnson did say he was very surprised "to suspend a guy for that, as opposed to a fine or something. But, I guess with the last month or so, I think they're coming down hard."

This is the latest in a series of problems for the 34-year-old Sprewell. He was suspended for one year -- later reduced to 68 games -- for choking Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo at practice in 1997.

In December 2003, Sprewell was fined $25,000 by the NBA for cursing at New York Knicks chairman James Dolan and screaming at the team's bench. In 1999, Sprewell was fined $10,000 for making profane remarks to fans during game.

Last month, he received a misdemeanor citation after arguing with a police officer during a traffic stop. Sprewell, who was a passenger in the vehicle, claimed he was treated unfairly.

The former All-Star also demanded that the Timberwolves extend his contract or trade him, saying, "I've got my family to feed." Sprewell, who will make $14.6 million this season in the final year of his deal, drew criticism from Stern for the remark.

All of the episodes have made Sprewell a target for hecklers on the road and at Target Center.

In a Nov. 9 home game against Indiana, Sprewell whirled around during a first-quarter timeout when a fan behind the bench taunted him. Sprewell yelled some obscenities before returning to the court. Security gave the man a brief lecture on etiquette. "When you pay you have a right to do things," Saunders said at the time, "but that doesn't mean it's right."

Saunders was asked if the added attention on Sprewell has become a distraction.

"No," he replied. "All I know is he's playing a lot better after 16 games this year than he was last year."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press