Latrell Sprewell’s efforts to win over notoriously unforgiving Knicks fans got off to a good start at his latest public atonement ceremony last Friday. But the goodwill won’t get far if he fails to work some quick (mental and physical) magic on the court. To that end, Jockbeat asked some experts in sports psychology to offer Coach Jeff Van Gundy, Sprewell, and his teammates some advice on how the most talked about Knick can make a smooth and productive transition onto the team:
Bruce Ogilvie, a clinical psychologist who has worked with dozens of NBA teams, including Portland, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and Golden State (before Sprewell’s time), says he can’t make a judgment based on news reports, but he suggests that Sprewell and the Knicks might benefit from some therapeutic intervention in light of the “shocking” level of violence Sprewell displayed in his attack on P.J. Carlesimo.
Advice for Van Gundy: “Have a sports consultant design and implement a comprehensive program to develop Sprewell’s talent. Sit with Sprewell and come to a consensus on how you should treat one another.”
Advice for Sprewell’s teammates: “Learn to live with him. As long as Sprewell is producing on the court, don’t risk team conflict by voicing your opinions about his character. Go through the team captain if you feel the need to clarify your expectations of Sprewell.”
Advice for Sprewell: If he were the team consultant, Ogilvie says he “wouldn’t dare” offer Sprewell advice. However, Sprewell might do well to “look at some unconscious stuff that’s going on inside of him.”
Dan Kirschenbaum, a sports psychologist and director of the International Center for Sport Psychology in Chicago, was hired briefly by the NBA last year in the wake of the neck grip felt round the world to provide a “scientific basis” for the use of severe penalties against athletes who exhibit violent behavior. (In the end, the NBA didn’t use Kirschenbaum’s expertise to support their case in arbitration hearings over Sprewell’s punishment.)
Advice for Van Gundy: “Expect another ‘bad day.’ Sprewell’s history of aggressive and hostile behavior is likely to show up in one form or another in the future. When it does, answer with an iron fist.”
Advice for teammates: “Worry about it. The integrity of the game of basketball is at stake. Let Sprewell know that he has to learn to control his temper.”
Advice for Sprewell: “Get thee to a pyschologist. None of the touchy-feely stuff. Work with a sports psychologist on identifying what triggers your anger and then develop ways to control it. Anger-management techniques that have helped other athletes include clenching your fists, getting out of the game for a few minutes, or taking a deep breath.”
Michael Sachs, a professor of physical education at Temple University who specializes in sports psychology, thinks a dose of tough love will do the trick.
Advice for Van Gundy: “Make sure Sprewell has dealt with his anger-management issues. Then make sure he is comfortable. Establish clear and open communication from both ends and iron out the ground rules up front.”
Advice for teammates: “Let Sprewell know that you support him. He should be the one to approach you to assuage any concerns you have. If he doesn‘t, make your feelings known through the team leader.”
Advice for Sprewell: “Don’t underestimate the wrath of the public. Suffocating media attention and bitter John Starks fans could push you over the edge. Don’t bite the bait.”
Consider what might have happened had Michael Jordan taken his own advice to “stay in school” and remained at North Carolina for four years. He would have entered the 1985 draft, whereupon the Knicks, who owned the top pick that year, would’ve had the honor of passing him over in favor of Patrick Ewing. . . .
“I want to do cool stuff. I want to accomplish neat things,” declared squeaky-voiced Olympic gymnastic sprite Kerri Strug. So she went out and joined the Stanford University bowling team. And last week she and her infamous tender ankle entered the Houston Marathon. Strug managed to complete the 26.2 miles, but confessed, “When I run, it’s like slow motion.” Uh-huh. Strug’s time was 4:12:06, 108 minutes behind winner Tatyana Pozdnyakova, who is old enough, at 43, to be Strug’s momma. . . .
The Paris-Dakar rally has long been regarded as the most grueling of all motorsport competitions. This year’s version more than lived up to its extreme rep when 50 racers were ambushed by Kalashnikov-toting Tuareg tribesmen in Mauritania. The drivers fell into the trap 30 miles from the finish line of the 12th stage of the race. Some cars had their tires shot out, and racers were held until the 20 robbers escaped in four cars, three trucks, a motorbike— and with all the competitors’ cash. The Tuareg have been plundering desert travelers for thousands of years, and now they seem to have targeted the rally as a source of easy money. As the gang’s leader reportedly told the drivers before fleeing, “Thanks very much— see you next year.”. . .
There is apparently no truth to the report that Gary Carter has passed away. Jockbeat regrets the error.
contributors: Sarah Smith, Allen St. John, Peter Gambaccini, Matthew Yeomans sports editor: Miles D. Seligman