Editor's Note: Thanks to SML for his great post on everybody's favorite cornrow'd assassin.
What up, everybody? I have the misfortune to have to follow Seth's great post about David Lee's origins. Little known fact: David Lee is actually Tom Hanks' acting coach. Okay, on to Latrell Sprewell.
Unlike most of the other great Knick players on this list, Latrell Sprewell probably lacks a distinctive play or moment as a Knick. Everyone remembers Allan Houston's lean-in jumper that beat the Heat in 98-99, or John Starks big dunk over the Bulls, or even Marcus Camby's headbutting Jeff Van Gundy while trying to land the worst right hook in Knicks history.
But Latrell did have one distinctive moment in his career, which is how the All-Star ended up on the Knicks.
P.J. Carlesimo was in his first season as head coach in Golden State in 1997. He was mostly a career college coach (though he had coached the Trail Blazers), and was known for riding the vets hard, much like he did with his college kids. Of course, million dollar veterans aren't as receptive to criticism as college kids, and there was tension between most of the players on the team and PJ.
On December 1st, 1997, the tension reach a boiling point. Three weeks earlier PJ Carlesimo benched Sprewell during a game and called him "a joke" because he had been laughing during the huddle. Three days before Sprewell was fined because he was late to a team flight in Utah.
On this day, during practice, PJ urged Latrell to throw crisper passes.
"Put some mustard on those passes!"
Latrell warned PJ not to approach him, advising him to leave him alone.
"I don't want to hear it today."
PJ: "What did you say?", he screamed, approaching Sprewell.
Sprewell: "Don't come any closer. I'm gonna kill you, mo-fo..." PJ (stepping right to Spree): "Do it."
Sprewell snapped, and started choking Carlesimo. It took 15 seconds before his teammates removed him from their coach. 20 minutes later Spree came back for round two and landed an elbow while being restrained by teammates.
The best related story about the fight centers around Bimbo Coles. He was on a side court practicing his free throw. He heard the ruckus, turned around, and saw his teammate Sprewell choking his coach. He turned back around and kept practicing his free throws.
After a then-record suspension, Latrell was traded to the Knicks for John Starks plus. With Allan Houston already manning the starting SG position, Latrell spent most of his first season in NY coming off the bench. It wasn't long before he was a crowd favorite. He teamed up with Houston and Camby to lead the Knicks to one of the most surprising NBA Finals appearances ever, as an 8th seed that season (1999). The Knicks lost to the Spurs, but Sprewell had a big series, averaging 26.0 ppg.
Here's the odd thing about Latrell's game that I never understood - everyone (including me and most of my friends) all knew Latrell could only go to his left. He never went to his right. Ever. Yet he still got pass a lot of defenders, because of his amazing quickness. He was also helped by the uniqueness of a righthanded player who could only drive to his left.
Latrell's signature move, if anything stood out, was his tendency to overplay the passing lanes on defense. He would then jump out and intercept a pass, and finish the play with a ferocious dunk. Number 8 here is the prototypical Sprewell move:
I don't know how many times I saw Spree do that as a Knicks, but it was a lot. Number 3 is also worth checking out, just to get a reminder of what a powerful dunker and leaper Spree was. He was a streaky long distance shooter, but when he was on from deep he was damn near unstoppable:
He still holds that record, though Ben Gordon of the Bulls has since tied it. His popularity as a player in New York after 1999 never ebbed... he had one of the top 10 selling jerseys in the NBA up until 2003, when he was shipped out because owner James Dolan had grown tired of Spree's failure to comply with his media policy. Spree was traded to the Timberwolves in a four-team trade that netted the Knicks Keith van Horn. Keith van Horn did not receive any votes for Top 10 most liked Knicks.