By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Jan 27 2010 4:00PM - Updated Jan 28 2010 8:37AM
NBA commissioner David Stern has suspended Gilbert Arenas for the rest of the season, and the Washington Wizards' star guard has told associates that he will not appeal the league's decision, according to a league source.
Arenas has been suspended without pay since early January for his role in an incident with teammate Javaris Crittenton in which both Arenas and Crittenton brought guns into the team's locker room at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., a violation of both the league's constitution and of the city's laws requiring any guns in the city be licensed in Washington and kept in the home. Arenas brought his guns from his Virginia home.
Crittenton also was suspended for the rest of the season in the decision handed down Wednesday afternoon.
The suspension will cost Arenas the final 50 games of the season and an approximate $7.4 million of his $16.1 million salary this season. After this season, Arenas -- who was the Wizards' leader this season in scoring (22.6 points per game) and assists (7.2) -- has four years and $80.1 million remaining on the six-year, $111 million contract extension he signed in 2008.
Arenas, who had already spoken with league attorneys investigating the incident, met with Stern and National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter in Stern's office for about an hour Wednesday morning before departing.
In a late afternoon conference call with reporters Wednesday, Stern said that he had "certain notions" about what he was going to do with both players, but opted to wait until he met with both individually. He said both Arenas and Crittenton expressed sincere contrition for what they did and said they would try to make things right in the future with their actions. But he felt he had to send a strong message.
"We mean what we say when we say that guns are prohibited from our buildings and team business," Stern said. "And if you violate that provision...you will be dealt with harshly. Because it's very potentially dangerous, to our players, to the other players, and to anybody else that might be involved, and we simply aren't going to tolerate it."
Arenas is awaiting sentencing in D.C. Superior Court March 26 after pleading guilty Jan. 15 to one felony count of carrying a pistol without a license, a crime whose punishments range from probation to a maximum five years in prison. Prosecutors, however, recommended that Arenas only serve six months to Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin, who will ultimately decide Arenas' fate. Morin set a sentencing date of March 26, before which he will receive a report on Arenas from the District's court services division. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will each make a recommendation on how much jail time Arenas should serve to Morin.
Crittenton pleaded guilty this past Monday to a misdemeanor count of possession of an unregistered firearm after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors. Judge Bruce Beaudin sentenced Crittenton to a year of unsupervised probation and a $1,250 fine as part of the plea agreement and ordered him to mentor young people in Washington and aid in relief efforts for victims of the Haitian earthquake earlier this month.
Crittenton, who has not played this season for Washington and was not likely to be retained by the Wizards next season even before the incident with Arenas, met with Stern on Tuesday.
"Both have expressed remorse for their actions and an understanding of the seriousness of their transgressions. Both have volunteered to engage in community service in order to turn the lessons they have learned into an educational message for others. I accept fully the sincerity of their expressions of regret and intent to create something positive from this incident," Stern said in the statement. "Nevertheless, there is no justification for their conduct."
The Wizards fully backed Stern's decision.
"[Arenas' and Crittenton's] poor judgment has also violated the trust of our fans and stands in contrast to everything that [owner] Abe Pollin stood for throughout his life," the team said in a statement. "It is widely known that Mr. Pollin took the extraordinary step of changing the team name from "Bullets" to "Wizards" in 1997 precisely to express his abhorrence of gun violence in our community. We hope that this negative situation can produce something positive by serving as a reminder that gun violence is a serious issue."
The union's president, Lakers guard Derek Fisher, acknowledged late Tuesday night that the union is walking a tightrope between being there for Arenas and protecting his rights of appeal and due process and a possible public backlash against players should the union be viewed as defending the indefensible -- all while the union and the league begin discussions on a new collective bargaining agreement that would stave off a possible lockout before the 2011-12 season.
"I think that's a real issue," Fisher said. "That's the best way for me to put it. At this point, it's something that's on the table, it's up for discussion, and we have to be real about that. But at the same time, we can't forgo our responsibilities as a union to provide support, assistance, belief amongst our members that if there's anybody on earth that's going to be there for them, it's us. So it's a delicate balance and one that, once the NBA makes their decision ... it's going to be a delicate dance, and we're going to have to play it exactly right."
Fisher said Tuesday that he didn't have a specific number of games in mind that would be considered acceptable from the union's perspective for a suspension.
"That's another tricky part," he said. "Because there's not a precedent that you can balance it against. People have thrown out the brawl in Detroit (in 2004) and how many games those guys got. But that's a totally different set of circumstances--fans being involved, people getting physically injured. So it's hard to compare those. But at the same time, it's not just as simple as saying 'you brought a gun in the locker room, and that's it.' I don't know if we have a number in mind, that would be acceptable, or that would be too high or too low...hopefully we can have honest enough dialogue with the NBA about what goes into that decision. As long as we can fairly, in a proper manner, lay out our reasons--if it is way high, in anybody's opinion--as long as we can state our reasons why we feel it is over the top, that may be all we can do."
The Pistons-Pacers "Brawl at Auburn Hills" on Nov. 19, 2004, was one of the worst incidents in league history, beginning with a fight between the two teams in the final minute of their game that sprawled out of control and went into the stands. Fisher's now-Lakers teammate, Ron Artest, then playing for Indiana, was suspended by Stern for the final 73 games of that season after he went into the stands and punched a fan whom he (mistakenly) believed had thrown a cup of soda at him. (The fan who actually did throw the soda at Artest was banned from Pistons games for life.)
Stephen Jackson, then Artest's Pacers teammate and now in Charlotte, received 30 games for also going into the stands and punching fans. Jermaine O'Neal, who'd hit a fan on the court, received 25 games, but that punishment was reduced to 15 upon appeal. Six other players were suspended a total of 15 games for their respective roles in the incident.
The Arenas-Crittenton incident took place Dec. 21, in the Wizards' locker room. Crittenton and Arenas initially had a dispute two days earlier, on the team's plane ride back from Phoenix to Washington at the end of a road trip. The dispute, according to sources, involved a gambling debt that Crittenton believed Arenas owed him.
The prosecution's version of events, based on grand jury testimony from Arenas, Crittenton and other witnesses, states that Crittenton challenged Arenas to a fight. Arenas replied that he was too old to fight and that he would either burn Crittenton's car or shoot him. Crittenton replied that he would shoot Arenas in his knee, which had been surgically repaired in 2007 through a microfracture procedure.
After the team had the next day, Sunday, Dec. 20, off, it reconvened at Verizon Center for practice the morning of Dec. 21. Arenas brought four guns from his home to the arena, took them out and placed them on a chair in front of Crittenton's locker, and wrote "PICK 1" on a piece of paper. When Crittenton asked what was going on, Arenas said, "You said you were going to shoot me, so pick one."
Crittenton replied that he had his own gun, and tossed one of Arenas' guns across the locker room floor. Contrary to a published report in the Washington Post, the prosecution's version of what happened does not claim that Crittenton chambered a round of ammunition into his gun. Nor did Arenas or Crittenton point weapons at one another, as the New York Post claimed in its initial report of the incident. While Arenas has always maintained that he was joking about every threat he made to Crittenton, Crittenton told prosecutors he believed Arenas was serious, and that's why he brought the gun to practice.
Sources indicate that at least two players witnessed the incident. Several players and Wizards Coach Flip Saunders were subpoenaed to testify.
Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely Jan. 6, after Arenas had spent the previous weekend making light of what he deemed inaccurate coverage of the matter on his since-discontinued Twitter page, followed by a claim that he hadn't done anything wrong in a postgame interview Jan. 5 following Washington's game in Philadelphia. The capper was likely a picture of Arenas before the 76ers' game, surrounded by several laughing teammates, in which he was using his fingers to pantomime guns and was "shooting" his teammates.
Stern said he felt he had to suspend Arenas indefinitely after the initial incident because of Arenas's reaction.
"I would say a very honest response is I felt I should do something to keep Gilbert from doing further damage to himself," Stern said. "And I told him that."
Asked if he was more angry at or concerned about Arenas at the time, Stern said, "I've spent a career on the one hand having to dispense punishment, because that comes with the job, but on the other hand, trying to protect the group of players for whom I have a high regard. And protecting them from doing things that are foolish and damaging to themselves and to the league. And I felt Gilbert was doing that and it was incumbent upon me to stop it. I always feel a certain frustration when we have to deal with an individual incident, because we have more than 400 young men who are doing extraordinary things with their time and money."
The Wizards, who had been instructed by the Commissioner not to comment or take action against Arenas until the league had done so, have issued three statements since the initial incident. The last, which was issued the day Arenas pleaded guilty, said in part, "Gilbert used extremely poor judgment and is ultimately responsible for his actions."
Stern said that he expected the existing language about guns in the Collective Bargaining Agreement might be further strengthened, because he and Hunter, Stern said, are basically in agreement. Conversations between Stern and Hunter may continue in the coming weeks, Stern said.
Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here.
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