Waiting For Latrell With more athletes showing up late (if at all), sportswriters are assuming the job of hall monitor

October 24, 1999

"Punctuality," said Louis XVIII, "is the politeness of kings."
But modern Kings (and Knicks and Mavericks and Hawks) can
dispense with such courtesy; their divine rights exceed those of
mere monarchs. An NBA star is more manored--and less
mannered--than any 17th-century sovereign. So, when Latrell
Sprewell (salary: $9.1 million) declined to attend the New York
Knicks' training camp, failed to tell his employers where he
was, didn't return their telephone calls and finally rolled up
to a practice a week late, in a Mercedes, which he left in a no
parking zone, he had very little explaining to do.

Not to the Knicks, anyway. They will probably give Sprewell a
$70 million contract extension and wouldn't want to ruffle his
cornrows. Rather, Spree had to face the only people (outside a
court of law) who can still ask an athlete to account for his
actions: Those impertinent peons, that polyestered
pestilence--the sporting press. Why, those wretches wondered,
didn't Sprewell attend camp, or at least tell the Knicks where
he was? This is what Sprewell said:

"That's what agents are for. There was no particular reason. I
really didn't call anybody. I'm not denying I didn't call them
back. I just didn't. I thought my agent knew. But it's not like
I told him.... I'm not blaming him; it's on me. I didn't really
communicate to anybody. It's like, I'll get there. I'll be
there." Then the man who ditched camp concluded, "It was not
like I'm ditching camp."

Sprewell, meet Orwell, who wrote: "The great enemy of clear
language is insincerity."

A Knicks season-ticket holder once remarked that "Eighty percent
of success is showing up." But Woody Allen ought to know better.
The true sign of success is not showing up. The real stars of
the Show are the No-Shows.

Punctuality no longer flies. Neither, for that matter, does
Sprewell, who was driving from Oakland to New York while his
teammates endured two-a-days. Nor, come to think of it, does
Isaiah Rider, whose late arrival to the Atlanta Hawks' camp in
Chattanooga was caused by his refusal to board a flight from
Oakland. "What happened?" asked his ink-stained inquisitors a day
later. Rider explained that he doesn't do "crop-duster" flights.
While the plane in question was actually a commuter jet, you have
to hand it to the queasy Rider, who understands that when
speaking to the press, the best explanation is indignation.

At 6'8" and 275 pounds, Gary Trent brings to the Dallas
Mavericks what basketball announcers call a "presence." He also
brings what schoolteachers call an "absence." When the Mavs
re-signed the power forward to a two-year, $4.2 million contract
in August, the team held a news conference to announce his
return. Everyone involved showed up except Trent, who finally
surfaced last month for an informal workout, where he dissed his
employers to The Dallas Morning News. "I'm very disappointed
with them for making me look like I didn't show up, for making
me look bad," said Trent. "There was nothing to talk about. I
signed a two-year deal, and that was that. I didn't sign a
[maximum] deal, so there was nothing to have a press conference
about."

At a time when everyone in sports thinks everyone else is
deliberately trying to make him look bad--"Don't show me up!" a
National League umpire could be seen mouthing during a New York
Mets game the other day--Trent became the first athlete to feel
shown up for failing to have shown up.

But in fact, he should be grateful for this star-making turn. In
NBA circles everybody knows: You haven't arrived until you
haven't arrived.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO
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