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FOUL TROUBLE
Jack McCallum
December 15, 1997
This season David Stern finds himself surrounded by men behaving badly, teams playing really badly and superstars not playing at all. His headaches started before the Latrell Sprewell incident
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December 15, 1997

Foul Trouble

This season David Stern finds himself surrounded by men behaving badly, teams playing really badly and superstars not playing at all. His headaches started before the Latrell Sprewell incident

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It's after midnight, but you're still wearing your Kobe Bryant jersey and your Michael Jordan sneakers. By the dim light of your bedside lamp you're perusing Li'l Penny's autobiography, and from time to time you glance at your Gary Payton poster on the wall.

You're 13 years old, and you're a true believer in the NBA. But this season it has been hard to keep the faith. Real hard.

You don't quite know what to make of this Latrell Sprewell- P.J. Carlesimo thing, but you know players aren't supposed to choke their coaches, not even in football. You still like Scottie Pippen, but you can't figure out why he's trashing the Chicago Bulls. You remember reading about Isiah Thomas and how he won two championships with the Detroit Pistons, but now he has quit as executive vice president of the Toronto Raptors, and you're not sure why. Nor are you sure why the Raptors' coach, Darrell Walker, gave the finger to a fan in Utah the other night.

And Michael says he's quitting.

You've seen all of Shaq's movies—you loved it when he called himself a "genie with an attitude"—but you're wondering why he had to slap a harmless schmuck like Utah's Greg Ostertag after a shootaround. And where is Shaq? Hurt and out of action, like Pippen and Alonzo Mourning and an old guy who can really play, Hakeem Olajuwon. Your father got you tickets for some upcoming games, but it's hard to pretend you're excited when the opponents are Toronto, the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors, combined record 5-48. You're not sure whether the Warriors will be better off without Spre, but you sure as heck don't want to watch them to find out.

And Michael says he's quitting.

You love seeing Charles Barkley fuss and fume on the court because he's another old guy who can really play. But you wonder why he threw a guy through a barroom window. You figure that Grant Hill will one day own the world (if Kobe doesn't beat him to it), but Grant seems frustrated and a little out of it with a slow-starting Detroit team. You dig Kevin Garnett and his baggy shorts, and he helped you learn that Minnesota is right next to Wisconsin, where Terrell Brandon plays. But part of you wonders if your father's right (you hate it when that happens) and $125 million is too much money for a 21-year-old who has never won a playoff game.

And Michael says he's quitting.

There is no evidence that sometime in the past week David Stern jerked open a window in his 15th-floor New York City office and yelled down at startled passersby on Fifth Avenue, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" But when the NBA commissioner made the command decision to kick Sprewell out of the league for one year, it seemed that perhaps the pressures of dealing with a star-crossed first month of the season had something to do with his draconian decision.

Consider the muddled mess of the NBA this season: injuries to marquee players, off-court antics, on-court tantrums, a handful of horrible teams (and declining attendance at most of their games), the gradual fracturing of a great one and the specter of two ghastly possibilities on the horizon—a labor dispute that could result in a lockout before next season begins and Jordan's departure when this season ends. All that and droopy shorts too. Jeez, if any guy ever earned eight million bucks a year sitting in an office, it's Stern.

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