By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; D01
Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas met with law enforcement investigators for nearly two hours on Monday to explain the circumstances surrounding firearms he brought to Verizon Center last month. The three-time all-star later apologized to his teammates, the NBA and his fans for having a "serious lapse in judgment" during a dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton in which the guns were displayed.
In a statement released with his attorney, Kenneth L. Wainstein, Arenas described his handling of the weapons as "a misguided effort to play a joke on a teammate. Contrary to some news accounts, I never threatened or assaulted anyone with the guns and never pointed them at anyone."
Arenas's story was consistent with a previously reported version of the incident that has been supported by multiple sources. According to a person on the team flight home from Phoenix on Dec. 19, Arenas and Crittenton got into a heated argument over a card game. Crittenton, who was annoyed about losing money in the game, threatened to shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired left knee.
When the players arrived for practice two days later, Arenas placed at least three unloaded guns on a chair near Crittenton's locker room stall with a note that read, "Pick one." Although Arenas was attempting to be funny, Crittenton became upset, angrily tossed the guns to floor and flung one across the room, claiming that he had his own gun.
"Joke or not, I now recognize that what I did was a mistake and was wrong," Arenas said in his statement. "I should not have brought the guns to D.C. in the first place, and I now realize that there's no such thing as joking around when it comes to guns -- even if unloaded.
"I am very sorry for the effect that my serious lapse in judgment has had on my team, my teammates, the National Basketball Association and its fans. I want to apologize to everybody for letting them down with my conduct, and I promise to do better in the future."
Arenas and Wainstein, a former U.S. attorney in New York and Washington and a Homeland Security adviser in the Bush administration, met with federal prosecutors at the U.S. attorney's office for the District as well as with detectives of the Metropolitan Police Department. Wainstein said Arenas set up the meeting to "make an immediate self-disclosure about the guns."
When the NBA and the Wizards announced an investigation on Dec. 24, Arenas said that he moved the guns from his home in Great Falls following the birth of his third child on Dec. 9. "I had kept the four unloaded handguns in my house in Virginia, but then moved them over to my locker at the Verizon Center to keep them away from my young kids," Arenas said in the statement. "I brought them without any ammunition into the District of Columbia, mistakenly believing that the recent change in the D.C. gun laws allowed a person to store unloaded guns in the District."
Prosecutors are still investigating whether charges should be filed. Sources within the office said the investigation is still in its "early stages" and it's not clear when or if the case would go to a grand jury since the grand jury meets every day at the U.S. attorney's offices.
However, Arenas could still be arrested by D.C. police, even without charges being filed by prosecutors or an indictment from a grand jury.
Arenas could face two possible charges -- a felony for carrying a pistol without a license, which carries a maximum $5,000 fine and five years in prison; or misdemeanor possession of an unregistered firearm, which has a 12-month maximum sentence. Law enforcement investigators are expected to interview witnesses over the next few weeks, but Crittenton's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said that nothing has been scheduled with his client.
The NBA is waiting until the legal process plays out before making a decision on Arenas, who violated the collective bargaining agreement by bringing guns to a league facility. He faces a fine of up to $50,000 and a suspension that is up to the discretion of NBA Commissioner David Stern, who usually takes a hard stance in situations that endanger players and fans.
The Wizards could also terminate the remainder of Arenas's six-year, $111 million contract -- an option that multiple league sources have said the team would consider -- under the "moral turpitude" provision, which teams can utilize if a player pleads guilty to a felony crime.
Such a move is rare but in terms of the Wizards' salary cap, it would clear out a considerable amount in the summer of 2010. Two league sources said that Arenas and the NBA players' union would fight any attempt to terminate his deal.
The Golden State Warriors voided the remaining three years and $23.7 million on Latrell Sprewell's contract in 1998 after Sprewell attempted to choke Coach P.J. Carlesimo during an argument in practice. Stern suspended Sprewell for a year, but an arbitrator reduced the penalty to the remainder of the calendar year and canceled the Warriors' attempts to terminate the contract. Sprewell was later traded to the Knicks, who were run at the time by current Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld.
Staff writer Keith Alexander contributed to this report.