The infamous altercation between Spree and then-Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo took place in 1997, during what the team believed was just another day in the gym. But all of a sudden, Sprewell and Carlesimo started jawing at each other. The pair wound up having a heated exchange in the middle of the court, and Spree began choking his coach in front of everybody.
“He could breathe”
It was a terrible scene, and reports stated that Sprewell even threatened to kill Carlesimo. However, contrary to popular belief, Sprewell famously said “he could breathe,” and the choke was not that locked in on the coach’s neck.
“I wasn’t choking P.J. that hard,” Sprewell said. “I mean, he could breathe,” Sprewell explained.
What really started it
The choking itself could already tell a story that most people did not really bother to know what started it all. According to former Warriors guard Bimbo Coles, the fight stemmed from Carlesimo simply telling Sprewell that “he wasn’t throwing passes hard enough.”
“It’s embarrassing when a coach does that to you,” Coles told ESPN in a documentary about the incident.
However, Carlesimo had a different recollection. In an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Kelly Dwyer in 2013, P.J. said that “there was nothing that led up to it.” Eager to get more answers, Dwyer raised the narrative of whether the fight had any “racial undertone” or anything that had to do with Carlesimo being white and Sprewell being black.
As per Carlesimo, there was nothing of that sort.
“No, no, no. People are always gonna, you know, look at it and say, “Well, it’s a black player, it’s a white coach.’ No. I don’t think so,” Carlesimo explained. “A lot of the players and coaches in the league [at the time] immediately, you know, stood up and said, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. Let’s not bring something into this that’s not in it.’ That never had any legs.”
For those who don’t know, Sprewell wasn’t really the friendliest player on the team. In fact, it was said that he was a moody person. But that did not shed light on anything about the incident with Carlesimo.
According to the former president of the National Basketball Players Association, Buck Williams, some Dubs players were “concerned about what led up to this,” and some were even “angry” that Spree never had a fair chance to share “his side of the story.”
“They’re not taking Sprewell’s side, because nobody in his right mind can really take his side. He was totally wrong,” Williams told Vault.
As a reprimand, the Warriors voided Sprewell’s three-year, $23.7 million contract, and the NBA suspended him for one year. Whatever Spree’s deal with Carlesimo back then, we may never know. But hopefully, he learned something from it.