Best Season as a Knick: 1999-2000, 18.6 PPG, .435/.346/.866, 4.0 APG, 4.3 RPG
If ever there was a player to transition us from the rough-and-tumble, defense-first Knicks through the “every NBA star has an ego the size of Australia” era and leave us with the “no playoffs for a decade” Knicks, Latrell Sprewell was it. Drafted out of Alabama late in the first round in 1992 by Golden State, Sprewell was known as an athletic defender with limited scoring upside, but milked four 20-PPG seasons mostly out of tenacity and an ever-improving mid-range game. Oakley, Harper et al. must’ve been thinking, “He would’ve fit right in.”
In 1997 Spree became the poster boy for the NBA at its perceived me-first zenith when he, you know, choked out PJ Carlesimo. Enough has already been said about this, but I’ll just note that it obscures the fact that two years prior Sprewell got in a fight with Jerome Kersey, which would have been all well and good, except he returned to practice threatening Kersey with a two-by-four. Not a knife, or a gun, or something a somewhat normal person might bring to a fight…Sprewell brought a two-by-four like he was Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
He compounded all that in 2004, when as a member of the Bucks he issued his infamous, “I have a family to feed,” tirade in rejecting a contract extension worth three years and $21 million. Note that that contract would’ve paid him through the 2006-07 season, and his last year in the league was actually 04-05. Note also that since his retirement, his yacht has been repossessed, two homes have been foreclosed upon, and he is currently the number one delinquent taxpayer in the state of Wisconsin. (And someone named Anthony Mason is number three. Hmm.)
The point is, we should remember that the Spree experiment couldn’t have gone any better than it did. He came off a 68-game suspension, seemingly at the height of his crazy, in the biggest media market in the world, and behaved himself for five solid years. Then he left and went right back to being insane. We rightly remember him as a great player who helped the Knicks to a Finals, but let’s also be thankful that this whole thing went pretty much about as well as it was going to go. It could’ve been so, so much worse.