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Jamison, Wizards reach out to fans with apology for turmoil

By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Jan 8 2010 11:09PM

WASHINGTON - -- The Washington Wizards continued their damage control operation Friday in the wake of Gilbert Arenas's suspension by having team captain Antawn Jamison apologize to the home crowd at Verizon Center before the Wizards' game against the Orlando Magic.

Jamison took the microphone before tipoff Friday and spoke for about 90 seconds.

"On behalf of my teammates, this coaching staff, we know it's been a trying week," Jamison said. "One thing my teammates and I take very seriously is that being a positive role model is something we don't take lightly. And there's been a picture that's been shown of us taking this event very lightly. This is a serious situation, it's something we take to heart. We never meants to make light of the situation. And we're going to do everything in our power, as long as I'm your captain and all these guys right here are my teammates, to make this one of the most respectable organizations in the league."

The crowd applauded.

Jamison continued: "In order to make that happen, we need you guys to continue to support us. This thing here is very embarassing for my teammates and the coaching staff, but we're going to do everything possible to make this one of the toughest places to play in, to make this an exciting place, but most importantly, a place where you can bring your kids, your families, your buddy, to come and have a good time."

It has been a frenetic 48 hours in which the franchise sought to distance itself from its marquee player -- including taking a building-long banner of Arenas down from in front of the arena Thursday and scrubbing his image from its pregame video.

The activity outside was matched by activity within the organization, as the Poliln Family sought to assure employees that it was in control of the team following the death of patriarch and principal owner Abe Pollin Nov. 24. A memo circulated to staff detailed what the family called a new structure of the organization, with Pollin's widow, Irene, officially taking over as head of Washington Sports and Entertainment, the team's parent company. Pollin's son Robert was named CEO of the company, with Pollin's other son James and the team's longtime counsel David Osnos given executive responsibilities as well.

Since Abe Pollin's death, key decisions have been made by a board, which included Robert Pollin and Osnos. It is not believed the new structure will affect the likely sale of the team to billionaire Ted Leonsis, whose Lincoln Holdings group already owns 44 percent of the team and which has right of first refusal to buy controlling interest.

The changes marked a return to what the team hopes will be some sense of normalcy after NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely for his role in an incident Dec. 21 at Verizon Center in which Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton continued an argument that had begun two days earlier on the team's flight back from Phoenix following a game. The argument, according to sources, concerned money that Arenas owed Crittenton after a card game.

Before the team's practice Dec. 21, Arenas brought out four unloaded guns from his locker and told Crittenton to "pick one," as part of what Arenas said was a "joke" on Crittenton. Each had made mock threats to the other over the debt, but what Arenas thought was still a joke turned serious in the locker room after he displayed the guns. Crittenton grabbed one of the guns and threw it across the locker. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Crittenton then pulled out a gun of his own and loaded it. Teammates and Arenas, the Post reported, retreated to the trainer's room, and when they returned, Crittenton was gone.

The team reported the incident to the league and to local police that day. Guns are not allowed outside of the home in the District, and all weapons that come into the city must be registered. Arenas's guns were registered in Virginia, not D.C. Possession of an illegal firearm is a misdemeanor; having an unregistered gun in the city is a felony.

After and the New York Post reported, respectively, that Arenas was under investigation by the league for the incident and that he and Crittenton had pointed guns at one another, Arenas responded with increasingly mocking references to the media's coverage on his Twitter account--which was officially shuttered Thursday evening.

He issued two formal apologies -- both through his newly hired attorney. But in between, Arenas and his teammates seemed to mock the proceedings Tuesday night in Philadelphia, when many -- but not all -- of his teammates surrounded him during the pregame introductions, and Arenas extended his index fingers as if guns and pretended to "shoot" his teammates. He then said in the postgame interview that he didn't think he'd done anything wrong.

Stern suspended him on Wednesday, saying in a statement that he didn't think Arenas was currently "fit" to play NBA games. Arenas can not be in the arena during games and practices, though he can come to the facility to receive treatment from the medical and training staff. The Wizards must have Arenas on their active list for five games before they can deactivate him.

In the interim, the team is bracing for the decision of a grand jury on whether to indict Arenas. D.C. Police chief Cathy Lanier said in a Thursday radio interview that she believed the case would be finished shortly. Wizards coach Flip Saunders said before tipoff that he had testified Friday afternoon to investigators. Crittenton's agent, Mark Bartlestein, had said Thursday that his client had not yet been asked to testify, and still proclaimed that Crittenton would be found to have done nothing wrong when all the facts come out.

DeShawn Stevenson, Randy Foye and Fabricio Oberto also testified to authorities, Stevenson said. Stevenson said he spent several hours with the police, not finishing until 1:30 p.m.

The Post also reported Friday that the Wizards had banned gambling on their team flights and buses in response to the incident, joining the Nets, who took similar action on Thursday.

There were rumors on Thursday that the league was considering a league-wide prohibition on gambling at or in team facilities, but a league spokesman said Friday that historically, "this has been a team issue" and there were no plans for the NBA to issue a 30-team edict.

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