What more can we add to the Gilbert Arenas controversy? Probably not a whole heck of a lot but let’s piece together the facts and see what we can learn here, separated from all the hype and emotions of this story:
-On December 21, 2009, Arenas places several unloaded guns in front of the locker of teammate Javaris Crittenton. The guns were apparently put out because Arenas and Crittenton had a dispute about who should pay have to pay the pot in a poker game. Arenas and Crittenton both lost the hand but Arenas had refused to pay, enraging Crittenton. It’s not clear what the details of why Arenas wouldn’t pay or whether his refusal was legitimate but it’s hard not to notice that Arenas is set to make $16.2 million this season and has five more years left at about $20 million per year while Crittenton is on a one-year $1.5 million deal.
It’s hazy what happened next but Crittenton definitely became angry and either (a) threw one of the unloaded guns across the room and commented that he had his own loaded gun or (b) brandished his own gun at Arenas.
-The incident didn’t hit the press for a few days and at that time Arenas didn’t handle it well. The NBA and the Wizards seemed to have a wait and see stance on Arenas’ potential criminal liability, allowing him to play while law enforcement investigated the incident. On the court, Arenas seemed unaffected, as he put up roughly the same numbers the last week that he had all season. Off the court, it’s not clear how Arenas was feeling. Was he nervous? Well, he kept twittering nonsensical comments indicating that he didn’t take the whole situation very seriously and, of course, there was his joking gun salute in the huddle before the game on January 5th.
The NBA has now suspended Arenas indefinitely and without pay, ostensibly for acting like an idiot since the incident. While there are some questions as to whether Arenas could be suspended indefinitely for being an idiot, it appears that he isn’t contesting the suspension, perhaps because this might actually get him to act somewhat sane.
What will happen to Arenas?
In the longer term, Arenas could be in some trouble for his gun possession charge. I’m not privy to the penalties for gun possession laws in Washington D.C. but a nice breakdown of the criminal issues can be found over at East-Coast-Bias. In addition to potential jail time, Arenas is also looking at contract issues since the CBA allows a team to void a contract where the player is convicted of a felony. The Arenas contract (six years and $111 million) was a really bad risk before all these issue just based upon his prior knee issues so the Wiz may now jump at any chance at voiding the contract, or perhaps using that threat to reach a favorable buyout. Arenas should be okay monetarily (he’s earned $66 million before this year) but leaving roughly $100 million on the table makes anyone wince.
What the hell was Arenas doing?
Arenas has been known to be a bit of a nut most of his career, notably claiming that he filled out 50,000 All-Star ballots in 2006-07 in an attempt to make the All-Star team. This wasn’t harmful stuff, as much as Arenas silliness but he had vowed to be a bit more serious this year, telling the Washington Post in Septenber 2009: “I mean, I’m 27 now. I’m not the entertainer anymore,” Arenas said to start off this period. “I just want to play. I don’t have a blog. I don’t have a Twitter. When I was blogging and playing, all you guys focused on was my words. I’d just rather be focused, cut the gimmick out and play basketball.” Less than two months later, Arenas, who claimed to be miserable without his persona, signed up with Twitter and announced his plan to get one million followers before he would agree posting for his followers. Shortly thereafter, we come to the current issues.
Can people use this incident to make unfair generalizations about the NBA players?
Of course. It seems that there is growing sentiment with the general public that the Arenas affair represents all that’s wrong with the NBA, thuggish players brandishing guns and making threats. Of course, the stories we’ve heard so far show no evidence that Arenas was making any sort of threats. Really, Arenas showed himself to be totally immature wiseass during the December 21st confrontation, something he was before and has continually confirmed ever since. (By contrast, virtually no one has discussed Delonte West being caught with a cache of weapons in a guitar case while riding on the street).
This is also not the first NBA card game dispute to publicly affect a team. Who could forget in 1998-99 when Jerry Stackhouse gave a black eye to teammate Christian Laettner aboard the team plane. According to CNNSI.com, “the players were arguing over $2,000, and Stackhouse landed some blows to Laettner’s face.” The Pistons publicly denied the altercation but the article notes that a source stated that card games would be banned in the future. Might be a good league policy now.
Sure, fights happen but what’s the deal with the guns?
Indeed, there is a real question as to why many NBA players seem to be so heavily armed. I don’t see much utility in gun ownership in most cases but I do know that NBA players have been targeted over the past few years for robberies. Over the past decade, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, Chris Childs, and Nazr Mohammed were all robbed at gun point at various times and Eddy Curry was duct-taped to a chair at gun point during a scary home invasion. So, there is at least anecdotal evidence that NBA players want to be able to protect themselves (though David Stern has made it clear that he believes that having a weapon actually makes a player less safe because countering a gun with a gun only will escalate such situations).
Is there a moral to this story?
In the end, the lessons seem to be clear:
-NBA players carry guns far too often and are ignorant of the rather strict gun control laws that are enforced, particularly in urban areas.
-The general public understands this controversy in only the most simple terms that are, for the most part, inaccurate.
-Gilbert Arenas is still an immature wiseass and has inability to curb his tendencies could cost him his freedom, $100 million, and his NBA career.
-Twitter and other first person media have served to turn a normal controversy into an absolute whirlwind.
I hope that Arenas is penalized fairly under the circumstances. Jail time does not seem to be an appropriate response to this alleged crime but this is a very high profile case and that, coupled with Arenas’ post-incident behavior, almost dare authorities to seek maximum penalties. No matter what happens, Arenas has no one to blame but himself.