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Posted at 04:28 PM ET, 08/29/2011

How did former Wizard Javaris Crittenton end up a murder suspect on the run? (updated)

Update, 12:40 a.m.: Crittenton was taken into FBI custody Monday night at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., after checking in for a flight to Atlanta, according to the Associated Press.

Update, 5:45 p.m.: Crittenton’s lawyer says the former Wizard has agreed to surrender to authorities in Atlanta. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Crittenton will be on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta and should arrive in his hometown "very early [Tuesday] morning," said attorney Brian Steel, retained by family members earlier Monday.
"Mr. Crittenton wants to clear his name," Steel told the AJC. "He's innocent of the charges."

Original post: Javaris Crittenton remains at large and now the FBI has obtained an arrest warrant for the former Wizards guard, who was charged on Friday for the murder of Jullian Jones. The FBI warrant is for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution after Atlanta police earlier obtained a murder warrant for the Aug. 19 shooting of a 22-year-old mother of four. Crittenton is listed as “armed and dangerous.”


They say I’m a bad guy. (Chuck Burton - Associated Press)
He is believed to be in the Los Angeles area. But who knows for certain? And who knows whether Crittenton’s latest legal predicament is a sign that he never was the person many thought he was, or if his infamous gunplay with Gilbert Arenas back in December 2009 — which resulted in a misdemeanor weapons charge because it was his first offense — set him on a downward spiral to even greater problems?

The last comment Crittenton posted on his now-deleted Twitter account, @JayCrittDTE, read, “This is crazy. Trouble continues to follow me for some reason. I put my trust in God.” But the intro on his page, which quotes the song “Say Hello,” by Jay-Z, perhaps said much more: “Say hello to the bad guy! They say I’m a bad guy. They say a lot about me let me tell you what I aint!”

What Crittenton is now is a murder suspect on the run; a path that I never would have predicted for him — even after he pulled out a gun during a locker room incident with Arenas. I have only been in contact with Crittenton once since details of that exchange first came to light. He kept a low profile through the entire ordeal, kept his mouth shut, then resurfaced to do a radio interview with his former college coach, Paul Hewitt, and later spoke during his comeback attempt with the Charlotte Bobcats. He has changed his phone number since leaving Washington.

Crittenton quietly was the key piece when the Wizards acquired him and Mike James in a three-team trade with Memphis and New Orleans that sent Antonio Daniels to the Hornets in December of 2008. He was a 6-foot-5 guard who was caught in a numbers game in Los Angeles, where he backed up Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar before getting traded for Paul Gasol. A similar situation unfolded in Memphis, where the Grizzlies already had Mike Conley and drafted O.J. Mayo. So the Wizards felt it was worth taking a chance on a young prospect, especially with the season pretty much a lost cause (Arenas was out with his third knee surgery and Eddie Jordan had been fired as head coach).

I went back to covering the Wizards toward the tail end of that 19-win season, and Crittenton always seemed like a serious, hard-working kid just waiting for a chance to play. He finally got a shot in the final months of the season, and struggled with running the team and getting his shot to fall consistently. But he had considerable speed and was more comfortable when he was allowed to call his own number than when setting up his teammates.

During that season, the Wizards matched the franchise record for 82-game futility and were incredibly divided between the veterans and the younger players. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler repeatedly complained about the lack of maturity of some of the younger players such as Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee, who had done little with their opportunities in an injury-plagued season. Crittenton was hardly a part of the young clique, as he didn’t have the sense of humor to constantly trade jokes. He also was on a pretty short leash, with assistant coach Randy Ayers assigned by Hewitt to look after him. Ayers was tough on Crittenton, and Crittenton’s attitude was accepted and respected by Jamison and Butler.

In my interactions with Crittenton, he was extremely polite, honest and cooperative. He also was very competitive. When his teammates joked with him, he rarely engaged, but if he did, he tried to go where it really hurt. For the most part, though, he didn’t get involved with playing around. He simply seemed focused.

Crittenton arrived for training camp in the fall of 2009 far on the depth chart and in a bind, with an ankle injury sustained while playing pro-am basketball in his native Atlanta. The odds of Crittenton cracking the rotation were slim; Arenas and DeShawn Stevenson were coming back from injury and the Wizards had just acquired guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller from Minnesota. But Crittenton always knew how to say the right thing, providing answers that didn’t seem rehearsed. He just seemed to get it.

“It was tough, man,” Crittenton told me when he explained his lack of playing time in Los Angeles and Memphis. “You got to understand that this is a business, but when you’ve got a love for the game, it’s a burning fire when you’re not in there. It’s a humbling experience, but sometimes, it’s better to be humbled when you first step your foot in the door, so that when success comes, you’ve already been humbled.”

Crittenton began to shut down after the exchange with Arenas became public. The day after the incident, Crittenton had no problem explaining to me how he was going to Indianapolis to get another opinion on his injured foot. He never offered any hints that he was really going elsewhere to be away from the team for a while.

I contacted Crittenton after I heard about him and Arenas. He tried to act surprised, and joked that he never had a problem with Arenas. I knew he wasn’t telling the truth but I later found out that he had also been dishonest with the Wizards, who pressured him to come clean about bringing a gun to the locker room. Crittenton continued to deny bringing a gun until he decided to turn himself in and accept a plea agreement.

When he stopped saying the right things, Crittenton went silent.

I remember leaving the Verizon Center garage after a game that season. It had to be around 1:30 a.m. or so, and I was the last person in the media workroom. I pulled up to the stoplight and saw Crittenton leaning into a car window and talking to some young ladies. I don’t know exactly what he said, but he clearly was trying to get them to join him and his friends, who were waiting in the SUV nearby. His friend honked a horn to get Crittenton to get back in the car, which he did.

A few days later, I joked with Crittenton about his game with the ladies and that his foot must be getting better the way he got in the car after the women agreed to follow. Crittenton laughed, and we spent the rest of our time talking about Atlanta — where he grew up and where I had spent seven years covering sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We talked about where his family stayed, some of his experiences in high school and at Georgia Tech, and he explained the responsibility he felt to look out for his family.

I later learned from talking to others that Crittenton’s mother, Sonya Dixon, wanted desperately to get her son out of his environment in southwest Atlanta. She sent him to Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, a Bible school with a strict dress code and disciplinary rules. Crittenton not only excelled on the court, as he helped Dwight Howard win the Class A state title in 2004, but he also was a good student. He then went on to Georgia Tech and left after one year. Crittenton didn’t have enough time to run the offense the way Hewitt had wanted, but Hewitt had few concerns about how Crittenton would handle the other aspects of entering the NBA at age 19.

Los Angeles Coach Phil Jackson never played Crittenton his rookie year, but he was a fan of his athleticism. When asked about Crittenton after the season-ending suspension for bringing guns in the locker room, Jackson told me that Crittenton really struggled with sitting the bench. “I thought attitude-wise was really his problem,” Jackson said.

Everyone I’ve spoken with about Crittenton has talked about his competitiveness and how he rarely backed down from challenges. He could be stubborn, but few expected his life to take such a dark turn.

I always find myself thinking back to a conversation that I had with Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith after the incident with Arenas. Smith played AAU basketball with Crittenton for the Atlanta Celtics and told me that he was surprised to hear that Crittenton got into any trouble with guns. “Javaris is a real non-confrontational person,” Smith told me back then. “He’s a lover. He was the lover boy.”

Smith then laughed, and I immediately remembered that night outside Verizon Center. But this latest situation has me thinking, again, about the unfortunate, unforgettable occurrence on that morning inside the Wizards’ locker room.

Was that where the problems began? Or did Crittenton just do a great job of masking what really was going on inside?

Now comes his chance to tell us what he really is.

By  |  04:28 PM ET, 08/29/2011

 
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