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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Gilbert Arenas, Javaris Crittenton are suspended for season

NBA Commissioner David Stern disciplines the Washington Wizards teammates, who engaged in a so-called joke that involved five handguns in the team's dressing room.

January 28, 2010|Mark Heisler

True to his zany self to the end of a farce he created, blew up and then volunteered to atone for, Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas was suspended for the rest of the season by NBA Commissioner David Stern on Wednesday.

Arenas' teammate, Javaris Crittenton, who engaged in this so-called joke that involved five handguns in the Wizards dressing room, was also suspended for the season.

None of the weapons was licensed in the District of Columbia, and bringing them to the arena was a violation of NBA rules.

"We mean what we say when we say that guns are prohibited from being in our buildings and on team business," Stern said in a conference call.

"You will be dealt with harshly because it's very potentially dangerous to our players, to the other players and to anyone else who might be involved. . . .

"I felt that I should do something to keep Arenas from doing even further damage to himself and I told him that. We also try to protect [players] from doing things that are foolish and damaging. I felt that Gilbert was in the process of doing that and it was incumbent on me to stop it."

Arenas, your all-purpose defendant, turned what started out as an argument about money he owed Crittenton into a joke involving four handguns from the safe in Arenas' dressing cubicle.

Arenas fanned the furor, turning the incident into a joke in introductions before the Wizards' game in Philadelphia on Jan. 5 when he pretended to shoot laughing teammates.

Coming full circle, Arenas reportedly told Stern he would instruct the NBA Players Assn. not to challenge the suspension, according to the Washington Post's Michael Lee.

Meeting with Stern at the league office in New York before the decision was announced, Arenas also told the commissioner he expected, and deserved, to be suspended for the season, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

The suspension will cost Arenas $9.9 million of this season's $16.2-million salary.

Of that, $2.4 million is already gone. That's how much Arenas cost himself with his pregame skit Jan. 5, prompting Stern, who had been waiting for the legal process to run its course, to start his suspension early.

Serious as the incident was, it wasn't a showdown with both players pointing guns at each other, as first reported by the New York Post.

According to the Washington Post's Mike Wise, Arenas, who had put off paying Crittenton a gambling debt, put his four pistols in front of his teammate's cubicle with a note that said "Pick one."

Crittenton then produced his own pistol, loading it and chambering a round, according to the Post.

Arenas has since pleaded guilty to felony gun possession. With sentencing deferred until March, the prosecutor is asking that Arenas serve six months in jail.

Meanwhile, Crittenton was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and was given a year of probation. A former Laker, Crittenton hasn't played this season because of injury, and will lose $686,000 of his $1.48-million salary.

This leaves one issue, the possibility Wizards management will try to void the last four years, worth $80 million, on Arenas' contract.

Wednesday, the Wizards, now in the hands of the family of late owner Abe Pollin, suggested they're considering it.

"We're still exploring all our options," said team President Ernie Grunfeld. "We haven't made any decisions up to this point."

The team issued a statement, saying it supports Stern's decision, noting the players' "poor judgment has also violated the trust of our fans and stands in contrast to everything Abe Pollin stood for throughout his life."

Nevertheless, league and union officials agree the Wizards would have a high bar to clear before an arbitrator and no precedent for voiding a contract in similar cases.

In 2007, Stephen Jackson was suspended for seven games after pleading guilty to felony recklessness after firing his gun in the air to break up a fight outside an Indianapolis strip club.

On its website, the NBA Players Assn. notes Article 35(d) of the NBA constitution stipulates that conduct deemed "prejudicial to the NBA" -- which includes violating rules firearms in the workplace -- are punishable by a fine or suspension but make no mention of voiding a contract.

In 1998, the Golden State Warriors tried to void Latrell Sprewell's contract after he put a chokehold on Coach P.J. Carlesimo in an argument.

However, an arbitrator reinstated the contract and shortened Stern's one-year suspension to the balance of that season.

Washington insiders think the Wizards will offer to buy out the rest of Arenas' contract.

As Arenas suggested in Wednesday's meeting with Stern, he's all about moving on to whatever adventure awaits.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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