(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser. If you are seeing this post through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)
In the last post on Thebeerchaser, “Yoking the Choke – Part I” – I described two interesting events not directly related to our clients at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt PC – the law firm where I served as the COO before I retired.
The filming of some scenes of “The Last Innocent Man” – an HBO movie in 1987 and hosting the three and on-half day West Coast hearing of former NBA star, Latrell Sprewell’s arbitration in 1998, both brought some well-known Hollywood celebrities, athletes and coaches to our offices.
Sprewell choked his coach, PJ Carlesimo in December,1997, an incident which garnered not only national, but international attention. “The Choke” (hereafter referenced as “TC”) and its related events read like a bad sports novel, but before telling you about our law firm’s connection, let’s go back twenty-five years for context and recollections that might depress you.
1997 is not a year ingrained in most of our memories. Why would you want to remember “Bitch” (No. 15) and Madonna’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (No. 87) – two of the “Billboard Year-end Hot 100 Singles” that year? (Madonna didn’t even edge out No. 82 “Macarena” – inexplicably down from its No 1 ranking in 1996.)
And neither television’s Seinfeld at No. 1 (Seinfeld then announced that 1997 was the final season) or “Men in Black” on the big silver screen in 1997, are exactly cultural icons that pull us back. (Seinfeld fans will remember Art Vandelay, President of Vandelay Industries who was a Beerchaser-of-the-Month in this blog in 2014.)
But if you look at a chronology of significant events occurring in December of that year from “On This Day.com” besides those below which I thought were interesting, you’ll find five references to Latrell Sprewell – shown following the vivid description of TC itself:
12/1 – “Howard Stern Radio Show” premiers on Davenport Iowa radio station KORB.
12/11 – Delegates from 150 industrial nations attending a UN climate conference in Kyoto, Japan, reach agreement to control heat-trapping greenhouse gases. (Obviously, we’ve made incredible progress….!!?? See note at the end of the post)
12/17 – Saturday Night Live Comedian, Chris Farley, died of an overdose of a combination of cocaine and morphine, commonly known as a “speedball.”
12/29 – Hong Kong begins slaughtering all its chickens to prevent bird flu. (I guess this taught us a lot about containing pandemics….)
12/31 – More Swedes died than were born in 1997 – 1st time since 1809. (I couldn’t resist that one….)
The Actual Incident
But before listing the Sprewell items, let’s look at a detailed description of the incident as described in the subsequent 2001 US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Spreewell v Golden State Warriors:
“Tensions between Sprewell and Carlesimo climaxed during a closed-door practice on December 1, 1997, during which Carlesimo told Sprewell to pass the ball to a teammate for a quick shot. Despite Sprewell’s contention that he passed the ball ‘admirably, as one would expect of an All-Star,’ Carlesimo rebuked Sprewell for not putting more speed on his pass.
When Carlesimo subsequently repeated his criticism, Sprewell slammed the ball down and directed several expletives at Carlesimo. Carlesimo responded with a similar showing of sophistication. Sprewell immediately either walked or lunged at Carlesimo and wrapped his hands around Carlesimo’s neck. With his arms fully extended, Sprewell moved Carlesimo backwards, saying ‘I will kill you’
Carlesimo offered no resistance. Sprewell grasped Carlesimo’s neck for approximately seven to ten seconds — the time it took for other players and coaches to restrain Sprewell. Sprewell then left the practice floor, saying ‘trade me, get me out of here, I will kill you,’ to which Carlesimo countered, ‘I am here.'”
Note: The above images are courtesy of Paul Eide, the creator and author of a great sports blog (I-80 Sports Blog). It covers all major sports and is a wonderful source of articles and opinions.
Paul is a freelance journalist since 2000 and has had his work published via AskMen, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, Busted Coverage, and Autotrader. You should check it out and subscribe to his e-blast. His description of The Choke can be accessed at the link above.
As promised, the December, 1996 Sprewell Chronology from the LA Times Archives:
* Dec. 1– Sprewell attacks Carlesimo at a practice; the Golden State Warriors suspend Sprewell without pay for at least 10 games.
* Dec. 3 –The Warriors terminate Sprewell’s $32 million contract.
* Dec. 4 — The NBA suspends Sprewell for one year, with Commissioner David Stern saying, “A sports league does not have to accept or condone behavior that would not be tolerated in any other segment of society.”
* Dec. 5 — The Players’ Association files grievances against the NBA and the Warriors (on behalf of Spreewell).
* Dec. 9 — In his first public comments on the attack, Sprewell says his conduct was unacceptable. “I am a good person and I’ve never had any situation like this come up before,” he says. “I feel 10 years of hard work shouldn’t be taken away for one mistake. My career didn’t happen overnight and I don’t feel it should be taken away overnight.”
* Dec. 10 — “With six former teammates behind him and famed attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. at his side, fired pro basketball star Latrell Sprewell apologized publicly Tuesday to his former coach for choking him last week.” (emphasis added) Buffalo News 1/10/1996
What’s somewhat both ironic and humorous – as are a lot of elements of this story – is Johnnie Cochran serving as a member/advisor of his legal team. That’s because Sprewell then made a comment in a January 23, 1997 interview with the New York Post stating: (LA Times Archives)
“I’m not as bad as everyone has made me out to be. It’s as if I’m another O.J. Simpson. Yes, I was wrong, but I didn’t kill anybody. I’m not a double murderer.” (Emphasis added)
The Law Firm Connection
Readers who have made it this far may be asking, “Okay Beerchaser, so what’s the link with the law firm and the Sprewell arbitration that you’ve mentioned?” In the next post, I will go into detail about the interactions and logistics of that multi-day hearing, but first, why did they select Schwabe’s Portland office as the site?
The NBA and Players’ Association knew with the witnesses testifying, it made economic and scheduling sense to break the arbitration into West Coast and East Coast hearings. Since PJ and some Golden State coaches and players who were testifying, were in the midst of the 1997-8 season, it had to be scheduled around the NBA games.
Golden State had a game with the Portland Trailblazers on Tuesday, January 29th and with Seattle on Thursday the 31st (they beat the Blazers and lost to the Sonics!) so their appearances could be worked into that window.
The NBA contacted the Blazers about a site for the Portland hearing – one with multiple large conference rooms, comfortable waiting areas, business equipment such as computers, faxes, etc. and most importantly, secure facilities to prevent media and interested fans from interfering or disrupting the proceedings.
The late Mike Fennel, was a Schwabe associate attorney after he graduated from law school in 1983 and subsequently spent five years as one of the Trail Blazer’s outside counsel at another firm doing primarily basketball related work.
When the Trail Blazers decided to build the Portland Rose Garden, they wanted to have an in-house General Counsel and Mike’s experience with the basketball side made him the prime candidate.
Mike Fennell – an outstanding lawyer and gentleman *13
In 1992 he became the first in-house General Counsel for an NBA team as Senior Vice President/General Counsel for the Trail Blazers from 1992 to October 2012. During his time at the Blazers, he assisted with all of the Trail Blazers legal matters including providing support on player contract negotiations, other team-related issues and the building of the Moda Center. Additionally, he served as General Counsel for other Paul Allen affiliates that operated in Portland.
Mike contacted us at Schwabe towards the end of 1997 and asked if we would be willing to discuss hosting the hearings. We agreed to negotiate the details with the NBA and Players’ Association. Those discussions and the following negotiations on the logistics were some of the most stimulating I experienced in my twenty-five years at the firm.
In the next post, I’ll also make a tribute to Mike who passed away far too young (61) in December 2018 after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2014.
Note in Closing on the Kyoto Protocol and Beyond…..
Climate change is a critical global issue (among many these days). As stated in a 3/1/22 article entitled ” Another Troubling Climate Report:”
“A highly anticipated report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded there is a ‘brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.’ It warned of certain ‘tipping points’ that could increase climate risks if global temperatures exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (it’s already increased 1.1 degrees).”
How effective was the Kyoto Protocol? According to an October, 2020 post from Earth.org.
“The U.S. was originally part of the agreement, but dropped out in 2001 due to the concern of an economic turndown. George Bush, the former US president, stated that complying with the Protocol would mean limiting the country’s growth and argued that there could be other ways to cut emissions without harming the economy.
When Canada withdrew in 2011, many thought the Protocol had failed. A year later, estimates showed a 20% drop in developed countries emissions (vis-à-vis 1990 levels). Despite global emissions rising by an overall 38% over the same period, Kyoto Protocol’s effect remains significant.
…It is more reasonable to see the Kyoto Protocol as a first step toward a greater international commitment to reversing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.”
Fortunately, the Paris Agreement, adopted by 196 Parties and effective on 4 November 2016, is now a legally binding international treaty on climate change.
“The Paris Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.”
On January 20, 2021 – his first day in office – President Biden signed the instrument to bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement.
External Photo Attribution
*2 Latrell Sprewell Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/123246144405531/photos/pb.100042176306027.-2207520000../1131335593596576/?type=3)
*3 Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Madonna_Rebel_Heart_Tour_2015_-_Stockholm_(23051472299)_(cropped).jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Author: chrisweger 14 November 2015.
*4 Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seinfeld.svg) This logo image consists only of simple geometric shapes or text. It does not meet the threshold of originality needed for copyright protection, and is therefore in the public domain.
*5 Public Domain – Wikimedia Common (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Men_In_Black_logo.png) This logo image consists only of simple geometric shapes or text. It does not meet the threshold of originality needed for copyright protection, and is therefore in the public domain. Author: Universal Orlando – 1997.
*6 Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kyoto_Protocol_parties.svg) I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide. Author: User:Canuckguy, User:Danlaycock – 2 October 2014.
*7 I-80 Sports Blog (https://i80sportsblog.com/latrell-sprewell-chokes-pj-carlesimo/)
*8 Wikimedia Commons: (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:P._J._Carlesimo_2015_cropped.jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author: MavsFan28 – 26 September 205.
*9 Latrell Sprewell Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/123246144405531/photos/pb.100042176306027.-2207520000../123246191072193/?type=3)
*10 Wikimedia Commons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnie_Cochran#/media/File:Johnnie_cochran_2001_cropped_retouched.jpg) By Mark Winograd (Personal photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
*11 Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basketball.png) This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Reisio. This applies worldwide. Author: Reisio 26 January 2006.
*12 Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rockefeller_Park_td_(2019-03-09)_101_-_Basketball_Courts.jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author: Tdorante10 9 March 2019.
*13 Oregon Live (https://obits.oregonlive.com/us/obituaries/oregon/name/michael-fennell-obituary?id=15737681)
*14 Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ParisAgreement.svg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author: L.tak 22 April 2016.