I was 11 years old when I got Latrell Sprewell’s autograph at the Madison Square Garden. Full disclosure: though I grew up in New York, I’m actually a Celtics fan because my dad loved Larry Bird. My dad used to have to go to Boston for business once a year and it was usually during the Celtics season. He would bring me, my brother, and my mom to a Celtics game every year. However, it was 2002 when we made the short trip to New York City.
Celtics at Knicks – November 2, 2002
The Knicks were hosting the Celtics, and while I was rooting for Boston, I was very excited to watch this Knicks team who had Allan Houston,Marcus Camby, and Latrell Sprewell. My brother Pat is a Knicks fan, but at the time he was especially a HUGE Marcus Camby fan. He wore his Camby jersey and I wore my Paul Pierce jersey.
We both had miniature Knicks basketballs. Our mission (as you would imagine) was to get autographs. Though we sat a ways away from the court, we were behind the Knicks bench. So, we got to the game early and we were able to move close behind the Knicks bench during warm-ups. Pat tried to get Camby’s autograph, but my eyes were on Latrell Sprewell. Not only was he pretty close to where I was, but he was injured and wasn’t warming up. He was within autograph-signing distance.
I made my move.
Sprewell was dressed in a brownish suit, and he was standing talking to one of the MSG trainers. I don’t even think kids nowadays can do what I was about to do, you probably couldn’t get anywhere close. But this was 2002, and so I reached over the gate and tugged on Latrell Sprewell’s pant leg. He looked down and saw me.
He looked pissed.
But I showed him my miniature New York Knicks basketball and asked like the polite 11-year old boy I was if he could sign it.
He did…and I was super stoked. I’ll never forget it.
I learned later on why Latrell Sprewell was injured that game. He had hosted a party on his yacht and, allegedly, a woman vomited on the yacht floor. Sprewell told the woman to leave the party, but the woman’s boyfriend objected. Infuriated, Sprewell took a swing at the boyfriend. He missed and ended up punching a wall…breaking his hand.
And this was a guy whose suit pant leg I tugged on. Yikes.
Off the court issues overshadow a potential hall of fame career.
If you remember how Latrell Sprewell’s career had progressed (and ended) it was a bit of a tragedy. But Sprewell was a good player. He posted 18.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, and 4 assists per game throughout his 13-year career. Sprewell was a 4x All-Star who was a solid two-way player and was surprisingly a reliable free-throw shooter at 80.4% (229th all-time).
In the 2003-04 season, Sprewell was on the Timberwolves and he, along with Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell were a “Big 3” before Big 3s became a thing in the league. Minnesota finished 58-24 and if it wasn’t for Kobe Bryant, the Timberwolves would have gone to the NBA finals that year.
It was on Halloween in 2004 when Minnesota offered Sprewell a three-year, $21 million contract extension. However, Sprewell was not happy with the deal and was quoted saying, “I have a family to feed.” Sprewell and his agent declined the extension in hopes that a team would sign him as a free agent for a lot more money.
About a month into the 2005-06 season, Sprewell still did not have a contract and Bob Gist, who was Sprewell’s agent at the time, stated that Latrell would “rather retire” than play at a minimal salary, and that his client would wait until “teams get desperate.”
Le’Veon Bell will try and do what Latrell Sprewell did over a decade ago. He, along with his agent, Adisa Bakari, will try and get a desperate team to pay him more than what the Steelers had offered him (which was five years, $70 million.) Le’Veon left $14.5 million on the table when he recently decided not to play a single game this season under the franchise tag. Bell cannot recuperate that $14.5 million; it’s gone.
Sure, by sitting out, Bell avoids injury because he simply is not playing. But who says he can’t injure himself in the very first game of next season in whatever uniform he’ll be wearing? What if he doesn’t even make it into a single game – did you all see what happened to Dez Bryant? Steelers offensive tackle, Jerald Hawkins, didn’t even play a single game because he tore his quad muscle during OTAs. Arguably, Bell’s healthiest season was when he posted 406 touches from scrimmage last year. That was his healthiest! Suspension-free! And he made $12.1 million.
Freak accidents happen
If you read my Thursday Night pick and my take on the Panthers vs. Steelers game last week, I talked about how I tore my ACL playing FLAG football. It was a freak accident…it was random…that’s why they’re freakish.
When Le’Veon Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari tells us that it’s the “wear-and-tear” and the constant pounding that concerns him and is the reason why his client is sitting out, I have to call bullshit. You see, the freakish-type of injuries that would have a significant impact on Bell’s ability to receive a mega deal or the deal he wants in free agency is normally not a byproduct of the excessive repetition or the wear-and-tear that a running back endures. When was the last time a player went on the IR because of wear-and-tear? Really? Did you pay any attention to your client last season?! Again, 406 touches, and Bell seemed like he made out just fine health-wise.
Bell has made it clear that he wants to be the best offensive weapon in the league. So what are you going to do? Are you going to take the ball out of his hands? You think the New York Jets, who have a struggling 20-year old quarterback, are not going to give the ball to Bell at least every other play? You think the Raiders (THE RAIDERS!) who have a running back with one foot out the retirement door is going to just let Derek Carr throw the ball 50 times a game? Is Jon Gruden is really going to limit Bell’s touches?! Or how about the Indianapolis Colts, who finally have a formidable offensive line and a quarterback who has had past shoulder problems? You think they’re going to take the ball out of Bell’s hands? And don’t even get me started with the Browns. Are any of these teams really going to limit Bell’s touches?
How ignorant of an agent can Bakari really be? Does he realize that the workload for Bell is not going to change no matter where he ends up playing? Bell is arguably the best running back in the league! And the more reps he gets, the more prolific of a playmaker Le’Veon really is. Just look at his numbers and history as a running back in this league. What, is he going to be part of an RB committee? Please. He needs the reps to be the best. PERIOD. You want to be the best offensive weapon – running back and wide receiver? You got to put in the work. In this league, you get out what you put in; especially as a running back, and he already has a void season on his resume. Plain and simple.
Speaking of history in the league, let’s not forget Le’Veon missed the first three weeks of the 2013 season due to a foot injury and was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season due to marijuana possession charges. Later that year, Bell suffered a torn MCL and missed the rest of the regular season. Then in 2016, Bell was suspended again, this time for three games – another substance abuse violation.
The clock is ticking
Le’Veon Bell will be 27 years old starting next season. He’s probably past his prime as opposed to someone like Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara who are all IN or BEFORE their prime. The average age of an NFL running back at his peak performance is 25.6 years old, according to APEX football statistics.
The graph shows that, since 2001, running backs who are 27 years old start their decline in production. So, history has shown us that once a running back turns 27, they are passing their prime.
Between the controversy, the antics, the suspensions, and the injuries, do you think a team will really be willing to dish out at least $45 million guaranteed to Bell? I am not so sure. The arrows point towards ‘no’ for me. Would you be willing to provide that much money to a player who provided false promises to his fans, coaches, and players? Le’Veon Bell tweeted to fans earlier this season that 2018 would be “my best season to date.” Yet…he has not,and will not, play a single game this season. He told everyone and the organization that he wanted to “retire a Steeler.” But there is a ONE HUNDRED PERCENT chance that Bell will be in a different uniform next year…or no uniform at all.
And that’s what I’m afraid of. I am afraid that Le’Veon Bell is going down a very similar path Latrell Sprewell once traveled.
What ended up happening to Sprewell?
Sprewell remained a free agent until his career unexpectedly fizzled. The Lakers showed interest in him. He could have played with Kobe Bryant and won two NBA championships. But it wasn’t enough for Sprewell. The Cavaliers, Rockets, and Nuggets were a few of several teams who also showed interest in Sprewell, but then decided not to pursue him; most likely because of his off-court behavior and his demands. The Spurs and Mavericks even offered Sprewell a deal! Nope. Sprewell and his agent decided it wasn’t enough money.
Latrell Sprewell’s career came to an end…because he couldn’t get the mega deal he wanted.
Sprewell would end up running into financial trouble after his career in the NBA. His homes were foreclosed, he had to auction off his yacht – that very same yacht where the woman vomited – and he became the most prominent delinquent taxpayer in the state of Wisconsin.
Back to Bell
Now what if a team doesn’t give Bell what he wants? Because let’s face it, Bell is all about the money.I know some may think that this is simply not true because Bell left or “sacrificed” $14.5 million this year. But you’re missing the point. Le’Veon left $14.5 million on the table in hopes of receiving even more money from a mega deal. This is what you call a gamble. That’s exactly what it is. Why do I go to a blackjack table and give up or “sacrifice” my chips? To get more chips – to get more money! We can go all in to get even more, and that is what Bell is doing.
So, if you think this isn’t about money, you’re wrong. I don’t buy the ground and pound and wear-and-tear bullshit. If Bell is given the deal he wants, that stuff means nothing to him. He’ll gladly get 450+ touches a season if it means raking in $50 million guaranteed.
He clearly isn’t about winning a Super Bowl; otherwise he’d stay put. The fact of the matter is, this is all about money because this is a gamble. And when we gamble, we want the money – we want the reward. Le’Veon wants the reward that he feels he deserves, and that’s FINE. I am just not sure if that will be practical.
So what happens now?
I really hope that Bell gets what he wants, but I also don’t want him to make the same mistake Latrell made over a decade ago. If Bell is given a lucrative deal in the offseason, he should look to be more receptive, even if it’s not quite the amount of money he wants, because Bell is against the clock; and again, he’s already sat out a full season. He’s getting older, and his production will go down, if it hasn’t already. Be smart, count your blessings, and go out there and be the best offensive weapon you can be for whoever you decide to play with. Take what you can get now, because you just never know what the future in the league holds for you; especially as a running back.
But if Bell’s already sat out one full season, who’s to say he can’t do it again? I hope Le’Veon Bell makes the right choice and I hope his holdout pays off for him, but I’m also not going to hold my breath.
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