SEATTLE - A confrontation involving the Sonics' Jerome Kersey will highlight the Golden State Warriors' case at the grievance hearing of Latrell Sprewell's ban for assaulting his coach, P.J. Carlesimo.
The Warriors are expected to try to show a pattern of violent behavior by documenting Sprewell's troubles.
In 1995, Sprewell brandished a 2-by-4 at Kersey to resolve a fight during practice. After being restrained by teammates, Sprewell threatened to return with a gun.
Considering that incident, Kersey's thoughts about Sprewell's personality and the NBA's penalty are surprising.
``Spree, you know, he's a good guy,'' said Kersey, a teammate of Sprewell's during the 1995-96 season at Golden State. ``I played with him for a year, and I like him. He's a competitor. He's a fiery guy. That's part of his competitive spirit. Maybe his competitive spirit got him in a little trouble this time, or a lot of trouble.''
Despite several media requests over the past week - ``About 20 people called me,'' Kersey said - the forward had declined to talk specifically about the incident. But he spoke publicly for the first time Sunday about Sprewell's psyche and the league's one-year-suspension.
``I don't know what the severity of the penalty should be,'' Kersey said. ``There should be a penalty, definitely, because you can't have guys in the league jumping on head coaches or jumping on other players. But I agree with what most people say: I don't think they did it very fairly. If they would have looked at it and said, `Hey we're going to look at everything that happened.' I don't think they ever went through that process.''
``I think it's a culmination of things that have gone on around the NBA. I think they said, `Hold on, we're going to put our foot down somewhere and this is going to be it.' But I don't think that should be the case. I know Spree, and I'm quite sure he's sorry about what happened.''
On Dec. 3, Golden State terminated Sprewell's four-year, $32 million contract. Two days later, the NBA took the unprecedented step of banning him from the league for one year.
Kersey's sympathetic words come as a surprise, given that Sprewell once threatened him with violence. Other Sonics echo Kersey's statements.
``It just shows what kind of person (Kersey) is,'' said Eric Snow, the Sonics' union representative. ``I don't think he's looking at it as a personal vendetta. I think he's looking at it as what's right or wrong. It's obvious that something should be done, but the rush to judgment wasn't fair.''
Kersey said he formed his opinion from a sense of fairness, a bit of player solidarity, and his experience playing for Carlesimo for two years in Portland.
``It's not about choosing sides,'' Kersey said. ``It's about getting the right information.''
The grievance, which was filed by the players association, will be heard in early January by John Feerick, dean of Fordham University's law school in New York. Under terms of the collective-bargaining agreement, Feerick's decision cannot be appealed.
Golden State will use other incidents to make its case during the hearing: In September 1995, Sprewell allegedly made racial remarks and threatened an Oakland police officer of Japanese decent. In 1994, Sprewell fought then-teammate Byron Houston.
But none of the confrontations is as similar to the Carlesimo incident as the one with Kersey. During the 1995 confrontation, cautious team officials asked Kersey to stay in the locker room in case Sprewell returned. That's why Kersey's sympathetic words might seem curious.
``You just can't take a whole guy's life away,'' Kersey said. ``He worked hard to get to that point. You can't just all of a sudden say: `Bam, I'm taking it'. That's not right. What he did is not right. What they're doing is not right. There has to be a compromise somewhere.''
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