Washington Wizards fall to San Antonio Spurs, 97-86

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 3, 2010; D01

He still managed to grin, to laugh, even as the current circumstances surrounding him appear serious and grim. Gilbert Arenas said he has tried to crack jokes, watch funny movies and do everything he can not to dwell on the negative aspects of his life, after it was revealed that he got into a locker room altercation with Washington Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton in which guns were displayed.

"It's been a little rough lately, but I'm trying to keep a smile on my face," Arenas said after scoring 23 points in the Wizards' 97-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night. "I'm a goofball. That's what I am. Even with something like this, I'm going to make fun of it."

Multiple sources have confirmed that Crittenton became upset with Arenas over a card game on Washington's team flight from Phoenix on Dec. 19. Crittenton was annoyed about losing money in the game. After Arenas mocked Crittenton, the two began arguing with trash talk escalating, according to sources. A person who was on the plane and witnessed the squabble said Crittenton joked with Arenas that he would shoot him in his left knee, which has kept him sidelined for much of the past two seasons.

When the players arrived for practice on Dec. 21, Arenas placed three guns on a chair next to Crittenton with a note that read, "Pick one." Two sources said the guns were the same guns Arenas had brought to the arena following the birth of his third child early last month. Arenas, according to sources, was expecting Crittenton to see it as a joke, based on his earlier comments. But Crittenton wasn't laughing. He grew enraged and tossed one of the guns across the room, saying that he had his own gun, according to a person who was in the locker room at the time.

According to a league source, when President Ernie Grunfeld was informed of the incident shortly thereafter and he immediately called the league office, which led to an investigation that CBSSports.com first reported on Dec. 24. Grunfeld, according to the same source, has been in communication with the league office on a daily basis.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has yet to make a public statement about the situation, but he has a history of coming down hard on players for off-court incidents that place others in danger. The collective bargaining agreement bans firearms from league facilities.

The NBA and the Wizards have both said they will wait until legal authorities complete their investigation before deciding on a punishment for Arenas and Crittenton. They both could face stiff fines and suspensions.

D.C. has strict gun laws prohibiting bringing guns into the city. Regardless of the details, Abe Pollin's family, which owns the team, released a statement about the incident at halftime of Saturday's game. "We know our fans are frustrated and angry. The fact that guns were brought to the Verizon Center is dangerous and disappointing and showed extremely poor judgment," the statement read. "Guns have absolutely no place in a workplace environment and we will take further steps to ensure this never happens again. While the police investigation proceeds, we are limited in what we can say, but we want our fans to know that we will not rest until this situation is resolved and has come to a satisfactory conclusion."

The disappointment of the Pollin family is understandable given that Abe Pollin, who died in November at age 85, changed the name of the franchise from Bullets to Wizards in 1997 after his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was gunned down two years before.

"I agree. That's bad judgment on my part. Storing them in here and I take responsibility for that," Arenas said when informed of the statement. "If you know me, you've been here, I've never did anything violent. Everything I do is funny -- or it's funny to me."

On Saturday, Crittenton's agent, Mark Bartelstein, came to the defense of his client, denying allegations that Crittenton pulled a gun on Arenas.

"I can say that I really think that when all is said and done, the facts will show that Javaris didn't do anything wrong. He'll be exonerated on everything," Bartelstein said in a phone interview. "That's not who Javaris is. He did not do anything wrong. The only thing we can do is wait for the investigation to be completed so that we can move on. This is not what he wants people talking about with regards to him. It's really unfair the way the rumors work now."

Arenas was asked if he had spoken with Crittenton since the incident. "We were friends before. We're friends now. We don't have no problem," said Arenas, who was seen laughing with Crittenton during a second-quarter timeout Saturday night. "He's very upset, because [Crittenton] had a friend quoted [in the New York Post] and he hasn't talked to that friend in eight months."

When Arenas was announced before the game, he received a tepid response from the 19,025 fans at Verizon Center. He was greeted with a smattering of boos when he shot an air ball on his first jumper, but later cheered when he drained a half-court shot off the glass at the end of the first period. Arenas was clearly trying to move on, as he scored 23 points with eight assists. But he is still stepping into a murky future with the NBA, D.C. police department and federal authorities investigating the circumstances surrounding the guns and the dispute between Arenas and Crittenton.

"I'm not nervous at all," Arenas said, adding that he will speak with law-enforcement officials on Monday. "I'm taking it serious, but why be depressed at home? It's easy to run from a situation."

San Antonio Spurs forward Richard Jefferson, who played college basketball with Arenas at Arizona, said he has spoken with Arenas. "I think it was a joke gone wrong. Everyone talks real big and plays around, but I don't think there was anything malicious or that there was anything threatening or dangerous," Jefferson said.

A person close to Arenas also said that the incident has been overblown, describing the confrontation as "horseplay." But the person didn't downplay the serious violation of NBA rules, saying, "How are you able to get caught in such stupidity?"

Arenas has tried to deflect attention from his situation by making attempts to be funny on his Twitter account and still clowning around with those close to him.

"Make a little fun at yourself and try to keep upbeat," he said. "Laughter usually heals pain."

The source of the pain?

"All the stories I've been reading," Arenas said.

"My concern is only on the basketball court," Arenas said after the Wizards (10-21) lost their fourth consecutive game. "Right now, we're not performing the way we should. Other than that, I don't try to let the outside world affect what I do on the basketball court."

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