League quick to react in wake of brawl

NEW YORK -- Latrell Sprewell was suspended for one game by the NBA on Tuesday for yelling a sexual vulgarity at a female fan during a game, the latest episode of a player clashing with spectators.

The penalty was harsher than those issued in the past by the
league office for on-court outbursts. The NBA has been particularly
concerned about conflicts between players and fans following a
nasty brawl in Detroit 2½ weeks ago that spilled into the stands.

Sprewell responded to a female heckler with a sexually vulgar
term that was clearly picked up by a courtside microphone and
broadcast by television stations KTLA in Los Angeles and KSTC in

Commissioner David Stern has said the NBA needs to re-examine
what will be tolerated in terms of civil behavior between players
and spectators, and Tuesday's penalty issued by league vice
president Stu Jackson made it clear that vulgar exchanges won't be.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said league policy prohibits directing
obscenities at fans.

"Our policy is that you can't do it," he said. "When you do
it, you're going to get suspended."

Sprewell was not present for the Timberwolves' game Tuesday
night against Dallas. The team released a statement from general
manager Jim Stack.

"As an organization, the Minnesota Timberwolves do not condone
its players directing inappropriate language toward fans," Stack
said. "The NBA's decision to suspend Latrell Sprewell for one game
speaks for itself."

Players' union director Billy Hunter did not return a call
seeking comment, and Wolves coach Flip Saunders and most of his
players refused to answer questions on the subject before Tuesday
night's game.

Minnesota union representative Ervin Johnson did say he was very
surprised "to suspend a guy for that, as opposed to a fine or
something. But, I guess with the last month or so, I think they're
coming down hard."

This is the latest in a series of problems for the 34-year-old
Sprewell. He was suspended for one year -- later reduced to 68 games
-- for choking Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo at
practice in 1997.

In December 2003, Sprewell was fined $25,000 by the NBA for
cursing at New York Knicks chairman James Dolan and screaming at
the team's bench. In 1999, Sprewell was fined $10,000 for making
profane remarks to fans during game.

Last month, he received a misdemeanor citation after arguing
with a police officer during a traffic stop. Sprewell, who was a
passenger in the vehicle, claimed he was treated unfairly.

The former All-Star also demanded that the Timberwolves extend
his contract or trade him, saying, "I've got my family to feed."
Sprewell, who will make $14.6 million this season in the final year
of his deal, drew criticism from Stern for the remark.

All of the episodes have made Sprewell a target for hecklers on
the road and at Target Center.

In a Nov. 9 home game against Indiana, Sprewell whirled around
during a first-quarter timeout when a fan behind the bench taunted
him. Sprewell yelled some obscenities before returning to the
court. Security gave the man a brief lecture on etiquette. "When
you pay you have a right to do things," Saunders said at the time,
"but that doesn't mean it's right."

Saunders was asked if the added attention on Sprewell has become
a distraction.

"No," he replied. "All I know is he's playing a lot better
after 16 games this year than he was last year."