- Jemele Hill, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine
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It remains unclear whether Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton were joking around or serious when ill will about a card game allegedly led to guns' being drawn in the Washington Wizards' locker room a few nights before Christmas. But if the Wizards and the NBA want to send a message to players that this behavior is unacceptable, here is what must be done once local and federal authorities finish investigating the matter.
1. Arenas and Crittenton should be suspended for the rest of this season.
2. The Wizards should use the morality clause to void the rest of Arenas' $111 million contract, which after this season will tally $78 million.
3. The Wizards should be fined considerably -- I'm thinking a high six figures -- for even allowing Arenas to store his guns at a public arena and league facility, regardless of whether the guns were kept in a locked area. Bringing a gun inside a NBA facility is prohibited.
NBA commissioner David Stern doesn't have to act swiftly, but he must act harshly. Players can't fool around with firearms in a locker room.
Some reports suggest Arenas wasn't serious when he laid three guns on a chair near Crittenton's locker and invited him to choose one to settle their beef over an unpaid gambling debt, but who jokes like that? Besides, if you believe what Crittenton's longtime friend Kendrick "Bookie Ball" Long told the New York Post -- the first to break the story -- Crittenton clearly missed the punch line of Arenas' "joke."
"[Crittenton] was just defending himself," Long told the Post.
Although I believe that New York City's grandstanding mayor Michael Bloomberg used Plaxico Burress' case for cheap political gain, it can't be overlooked that Burress took a loaded firearm into a nightclub, thus putting a lot of innocent people at risk.
The argument between Arenas and Crittenton should be viewed through the same lens because it could have escalated and resulted in horrific, unimaginable consequences. What if the players had shot each other and one of them had died? What if they had mistakenly shot someone else -- an employee or one of their teammates? Even if the guns were unloaded at the time, if tempers had continued to flare, they would remain dangerous weapons.
The NBA has worked hard to change the often-racially charged perception that it's a thug league, and this incident only gives NBA haters ammunition -- no pun intended -- for their off-base assumptions.
The Wizards should feel relieved because they would be more than justified to rid themselves of a player and a contract that are an albatross to their organization's development. At his best, Arenas is a gifted player and a delightful and entertaining personality, but after two injury-plagued seasons and a pattern of immature behavior -- not including this latest incident -- it has become obvious that Arenas is not fit to be the face of the Wizards franchise and is no longer worth the trouble.
His Hibachi and Agent Zero alter egos and other attention-seeking antics were once cute, but the Wizards are in the basement of the Southeast Division and their franchise player thinks he's Vincent Vega. Some of Arenas' teammates have grown tired of his unpredictable actions. No good can come from having Arenas stay in Washington because if he doesn't have the good sense not to do something this stupid, why would you think he's capable of providing the kind of leadership the Wizards need to be championship contenders?
Arenas doesn't get it. Case in point: He said after the Wizards' 97-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night that he exercised "poor judgment" by bringing guns to store in the locker room. It's the only thing he's admitted at this point, but that admission alone is worth a sizable suspension. And it's apparent he doesn't understand the magnitude of a situation that could result in the loss of millions and prison time.
"But if you know me, you've been here, I've never did anything [involving] violence," Arenas told reporters after the Spurs game. "Anything I do is funny -- well, it's funny to me."
Something tells me the authorities won't be laughing Monday when they reportedly talk to Arenas. Especially because when news of the incident broke, Arenas took to Twitter -- another bad idea -- and tweeted: "i wake up this morning and seen i was the new JOHN WAYNE ... media is too funny."
I suspect the NBA's players' union will vehemently fight whatever punishments Arenas and Crittenton may face because the union fought vigilantly on behalf of Latrell Sprewell, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal, who were involved in two of the ugliest events in NBA history -- choking a coach and fighting with belligerent fans at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
But if Arenas and Crittenton are dealt with harshly, it could set a precedent that saves a player's life or, at the very least, his career.
I'm not against players' owning guns because a number of players have been robbed or threatened, and considering their salaries are made public, the possibility that they'll be victims of a crime is an unfortunate reality.
If players want to protect themselves safely, legally and responsibly, that's their right under American law. But when someone chooses to behave stupidly and irresponsibly with a gun, some of his rights deserve to be taken away.
Jemele Hill can be reached at email@example.com.