By John Feinstein
Tuesday, January 5, 2010;
If Abe Pollin were alive right now, the past week might well have been as painful as any he suffered through during the 45 years that he owned the NBA team in Baltimore, Landover and downtown Washington.
The 10-21 record wouldn't have been anything new for Pollin, especially coming off last season's 19-63 debacle. Anyone who has followed the team now known as the Wizards has seen just about everything when it comes to losing during most of the past 25 years. The team has been mediocre; it has been reasonably good; and it has been truly awful.
But never before last week has the public known that its players are showing up armed. Note that phrase: has the public known. The chances are pretty good that Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton aren't the first players to show up at Verizon Center with guns.
There is no point here in starting a shouting match about gun control. It is one of those debates in which neither side is going to change its mind. Congress clearly doesn't have the stomach to take on the National Rifle Association and its lobbyists, so guns will continue to be readily available to those who want them.
That seems to be especially true for wealthy athletes. When Plaxico Burress managed to shoot himself in the thigh in a New York nightclub 14 months ago, one of his explanations for (illegally) carrying the gun was that he didn't feel completely safe going into the club. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had a succinct response to that: "If you don't feel safe going someplace," he said, "you shouldn't go there."
More often than not, safety is the reason given for athletes (and others) carrying guns. Here's a question: How often are professional athletes shot outside the home? There aren't a lot of them taking public transportation home late at night or walking the streets. Many, if not most, can afford a bodyguard if they think they're in some kind of danger.
Arenas specifically made the point the other night that: "The only places I go are home and here. I come here and I go home -- that's it."
One presumes that a man with a $111 million contract can afford a home security system or a locked gate if he so desires. If he's driving straight from his house to the garage underneath Verizon Center and back, when would he need a gun?
The good news is that he thought to get the guns out of his house after the birth of his third child. The bad news is that it took having three children before it occurred to him that guns in the house might not be a great idea.
Of course now we're getting into the area where the NRA types are going to start screaming about their right to protect themselves in their homes and how they feel safer if there's a gun by their bedside and who am I to question their Second Amendment rights. That's fine. To each his own.
The issue for the Wizards right now is not gun control or even the District's gun control laws, which are about as strict as the New York City law that landed Burress in jail. Adrian Fenty isn't Michael Bloomberg. He likely won't hold a news conference anytime soon and all but promise to put Arenas (or Crittenton) behind bars. If the prosecutor does charge Arenas with a felony and he's found guilty, it might give the Wizards an out to void his contract. That seems highly unlikely.
The issue the Wizards must deal with right now is that of a superstar and a team run amok. Basketball players playing cards on chartered airplanes happens all the time. If you have ever been on an NBA charter (I have) you can walk to the back of the plane and see thousands of dollars in cash sitting in the pot. Exactly what happened with Arenas and Crittenton that led to the incident isn't important except that it gives a snapshot into the minds of the two players. An argument over a card game is solved how? By threatening each other with guns?
Arenas says his guns were not loaded. Even if the same is true of Crittenton, how could either know for sure? Where did the joke end and the insanity begin? Stories of people being tragically mistaken about whether or not guns were loaded happen in this country almost every day.
This is a team that began the season with high hopes after the hiring of Flip Saunders to coach and the trades that brought Mike Miller and Randy Foye to town to join the three all-stars, Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.
Already Saunders has publicly called out his players for not playing defense. Arenas has publicly feuded with Butler and, even though his statistics look good, they aren't nearly as impressive in fourth quarters when the Wizards almost routinely collapse.
And now this.
Arenas really is, as he puts it, "a goofball." There doesn't appear to be any real malice in him. But he's become a serious distraction in the locker room, and this is the second time he has been involved with guns in his NBA career. The Wizards should do anything they can to get rid of him.
Here's the problem: No one in the NBA wants him. They'll take Butler and Jamison -- both good guys who are still very productive players. They'll take some of the Wizards' young players. But Arenas? With $80 million left on his contract at the end of this season and all of his various troubles?
Not so much. In fact, there are people in the NBA who will tell you that when you take everything into consideration, Arenas has the worst contract in the league. About the only way to move him would be to package him with two young players and a first-round draft pick in return for someone else with a bad contract. (No, Tracy McGrady doesn't qualify because his deal is up this year and thus not considered so bad.)
That's a steep price, especially in the short term, but it may be what the Wizards have to pay.
There was a time when Arenas was the most popular athlete in this town. That time, sadly, has long passed. It is time for Gilbert -- and his guns -- to get out of town by sundown.
For more from the author, visit his blog at http://www.feinsteinonthebrink.com.