Arenas pleads to felony gun charge

Updated: January 16, 2010, 9:37 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

WASHINGTON -- Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas pleaded guilty Friday to carrying a pistol without a license in the District of Columbia, a felony conviction that could jeopardize his future in the NBA.

Arenas pleaded guilty to a single count of violating the city's strict gun laws as part of a plea bargain in D.C. Superior Court. He will remain free at least until his sentencing March 26.

The charge stems from a Dec. 21 incident in which Arenas admitted he stored guns in his locker at the Verizon Center and took them out to play a joke on a teammate.

The NBA has suspended him indefinitely. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to ask for more than six months in jail for Arenas. He will be sentenced by Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin. Morin could sentence Arenas to anything from probation to a maximum of five years in jail.

Arenas "accepted full responsibility for his actions, acknowledged that those actions were wrong and against the law, and has apologized to all who have been affected by his conduct," Kenneth Wainstein, Arenas' attorney, said in a statement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh, reading in court from a statement of facts that Arenas agreed to, said the charge stemmed from a Dec. 19 dispute with another player over a card game. Kavanaugh did not identify the other player, but authorities have searched the home of teammate Javaris Crittenton for a gun.

Kavanaugh said the disagreement developed during a team flight back from Phoenix. The other player offered to settle matters with a fistfight, but Arenas, 28, said he was too old for that and suggested he would instead burn the other player's Cadillac Escalade or shoot him in the face. The argument on the plane ended with the other player saying he would shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee.

Two days later, Kavanaugh said, Arenas brought at least one gun to the Verizon Center in a black backpack. He laid out four guns on a chair in front of the other player's locker with a sign saying, "Pick one."

When the other player asked, "What is this?" Arenas responded: "You said you were going to shoot me. Pick one."

The other player said he had his own gun, threw one of Arenas' weapons across the room and then displayed what appeared to be a silver-colored firearm, Kavanaugh said.

Since Arenas first acknowledged keeping guns in his locker, he has publicly employed a "goofball" defense, claiming he wasn't aware of the law, meant no harm and never takes anything seriously.

But he was subdued in court Friday, wearing a gray suit with a light pinstripe and responding in a soft voice to the judge's questions.

U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips said in a statement that "playing with firearms is no joke."

"Today's guilty plea to a felony count of carrying a pistol without a license reflects the seriousness and grave risk of such conduct," Phillips said.

Arenas, a three-time All-Star, earlier acknowledged storing four unloaded guns in his locker, saying he wanted to keep them away from his young children and didn't know it was a violation of the city's strict gun laws.

He says he took them out of the locker Dec. 21 in a "misguided effort to play a joke" on a teammate.

After the fracas, authorities seized four unloaded handguns from Arenas, including a gold-plated Desert Eagle .50-caliber semiautomatic that the manufacturer sells for about $2,000. The other weapons were a 500-magnum revolver, another semiautomatic and a pistol.

The Wizards could try to void the remainder of Arenas' six-year, $111 million deal by invoking a morals clause. He has four years and $80 million left on the contract.

Adidas, which had employed Arenas as an endorser for much of his career, said Friday it was terminating their relationship, according to USA Today.

"Gilbert Arenas has been a cornerstone of the Washington Wizards for six years," the Wizards said in a statement. "We are deeply saddened and disappointed in his actions that have led to the events of this afternoon. Gilbert used extremely poor judgment and is ultimately responsible for his own actions."

The NBA didn't comment Friday, while the players' union offered support, with executive director Billy Hunter saying: "The Players Association will continue to make all of its resources available to Gilbert. We remain committed to aggressively representing him in the same fashion that we represent every player in the league."

Arenas was averaging team highs of 22.6 points and 7.2 assists this season for a team in last place in the NBA's Southeast Division. The Wizards have removed nearly all traces of the once-marketable player from their home arena, including Arenas merchandise with his jersey No. 0 and a huge banner with his photo that used to hang outside.

"He said to me he messed up and he needs to be responsible," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said before a game against the Bulls Friday night in Chicago. "He needs to accept his actions."

Wizards teammate Antawn Jamison said Friday he hasn't talked to Arenas.

"Hopefully he's doing better than what I'd be doing in the situation or better than I expect," Jamison said from the team's morning practice in Chicago. "But one thing about Gilbert, he's a tough-minded individual."

Arenas was charged Thursday, hours after Crittenton had his northern Virginia apartment searched by police looking for a silver- or chrome-colored semiautomatic handgun with a black handle. The search warrant indicated police were investigating crimes that include brandishing a weapon. No evidence was seized, according to court documents, and Crittenton has not been charged.

Prosecutors said Friday that Crittenton has denied he had a firearm, but they are continuing to investigate. Crittenton has previously said he did nothing wrong.

Even if Arenas avoids jail, the outcome of the legal process will have important implications on his future in the NBA and specifically with the Wizards. Possession of a gun at an NBA arena is a violation of the league's collective bargaining agreement, and last week commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely without pay pending the outcome of the investigation, a move supported by the Wizards.

Stern was particularly upset that Arenas repeatedly joked about the matter with reporters and on Twitter. Arenas at one point said: "I'm a goofball and that's what I am, so even doing something like this, I'm going to make fun of it and that's how I am."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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