Arenas indefinitely suspended by NBA
January 7, 2010
NEW YORK – Some of his teammates laughed when Gilbert Arenas pointed his index fingers at them, as if they were guns.
David Stern didn’t.
Stern hasn’t found any of Arenas’ behavior funny lately, so on Wednesday he handed down a punishment he wasn’t expected to deliver until much later.
Arenas was suspended indefinitely without pay by the NBA commissioner, who determined the Washington Wizards guard was “not currently fit to take the court.”
A day after Arenas made the gesture with his fingers toward his teammates who encircled him before a game in Philadelphia, Stern warned the former All-Star that his conduct will “ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse.”
Arenas is under investigation by federal and local authorities after admittedly bringing guns to the Wizards’ locker room. Stern said he intended to wait for that to be completed before taking action, and directed the Wizards to do the same.
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He changed his mind a day after the Philadelphia game, when Arenas said he feared Stern more than the authorities because the commissioner was “mean.”
“Although it is clear that the actions of Mr. Arenas will ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse, his ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game,” Stern said in a statement. “Accordingly, I am suspending Mr. Arenas indefinitely, without pay, effective immediately pending the completion of the investigation by the NBA.”
Though Arenas first apologized Monday for his poor judgment and promised “to do better in the future,” he also joked on Twitter about the incident and the media firestorm it created.
That was the wrong tact for Stern, whose league has taken another public relations hit.
“The possession of firearms by an NBA player in an NBA arena is a matter of the utmost concern to us,” Stern said.
With each game he misses, Arenas will lose about $147,200 of the $16.2 million he will earn in the second season of a six-year, $111 million contract. The punishment came on his 28th birthday.
“I feel very badly that my actions have caused the NBA to suspend me, but I understand why the league took this action,” Arenas said in a statement through his attorney. “I put the NBA in a negative light and let down my teammates and our fans. I am very sorry for doing that.”
Arenas added that he had called Stern to apologize.
“While I never intended any harm or disrespect to the NBA or anyone else, my gun possession at the Verizon Center and my attempts at humor showed terrible judgment,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my conduct.”
Arenas said he brought four guns to the Verizon Center because he wanted them out of his house after his daughter was born. But two officials within the league who have been briefed on the investigation have told The Associated Press that the incident stemmed from a dispute over card-playing gambling debts and a heated discussion in the locker room with teammate Javaris Crittenton. The New York Post reported that the two teammates drew weapons on each other.
Arenas said in a statement Monday that he took unloaded guns from his locker in a “misguided effort to play a joke” on a teammate.
“Joke or not, I now recognize that what I did was a mistake and was wrong,” Arenas said. “I should not have brought the guns to DC in the first place, and I now realize that there’s no such thing as joking around when it comes to guns – even if unloaded.”
Stern said members of the Wizards organization are still being interviewed by authorities.
“Some are scheduled for appearance before the grand jury and the investigation is proceeding with the intensity that one would expect for such a serious incident,” Stern said.
The story could get worse. The Washington Post, citing two firsthand accounts of the confrontation, reported on its Web site that Crittenton brandished his own gun and loaded a clip of ammunition into it. Arenas spoke to the district attorney about Crittenton’s loaded gun, a person with knowledge of Arenas’ testimony told the Post.
Crittenton told the Post in a series of text messages that the account was “false.”
“I have done nothing wrong. Let the investigation process take its course and you will see that,” Crittenton told the Post. “My name is dying in this situation.”
Arenas has been suspended once before because of a gun-related matter. He sat out Washington’s season opener in 2004 because he failed to maintain proper registration of a handgun while living in California in 2003 and playing for the Golden State Warriors.
The Wizards supported Stern’s decision in a statement attributed to president Ernie Grunfeld and the Pollin family, which owns the team. The late Abe Pollin changed the team’s name from the Bullets because of the violent connotation.
“Strictly legal issues aside, Gilbert’s recent behavior and statements, including his actions and statements last night in Philadelphia, are unacceptable,” the statement said. “Some of our other players appeared to find Gilbert’s behavior in Philadelphia amusing. This is also unacceptable.”
Union executive director Billy Hunter said the players association will wait until the investigation is complete before taking any action.
Since the firearms language was strengthened in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement, NBA players are subject to discipline if they bring guns to the arena or practice facility, or even an offsite promotional appearance. That gave Stern the option of taking action now instead of waiting until the completion of the criminal case, as he usually does.
Arenas’ suspension deprives the Wizards of their top scorer and on-court leader. After Arenas left the team in Cleveland, the Wizards fell to 11-22, last in the Southeast Division, with a 121-98 loss to the Cavaliers.
– AP sportswriters Howard Fendrich and Joseph White in Washington, and AP freelance writer Jason Lloyd in Cleveland contributed to this report.