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Despite distractions, Washington Wizards topple Philadelphia 76ers, 104-97

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010; D01

PHILADELPHIA -- The day after meeting with law enforcement officials in the District, Gilbert Arenas was back on the basketball court, the place that has provided him refuge throughout his life. But the moment Arenas was announced before the Washington Wizards played the Philadelphia 76ers, he suddenly had to deal with a hostile environment, as Philadelphia fans booed him lustily and taunted him with screams of, "Don't shoot me!"

Once famous for being quirky and goofy, Arenas is now infamous following a locker room dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton in which guns were displayed. Arenas explained his reason for handling the guns during an argument with Crittenton on Dec. 21 as "a misguided effort to play a joke on a teammate." He's tried to use humor to combat this stressful situation -- which could lead to serious trouble for violating D.C. gun laws and league rules. And, as his teammates gathered in a circle before the game, Arenas got in the middle, formed his hands into pistols -- thumbs up, index fingers out -- and acted as if he were shooting his teammates.

"They said, 'Do it. Do it. Do it,' " Arenas said of his teammates. "You wonder why I can't be serious?"

His teammates laughed hysterically. "Gil being Gil," Nick Young said afterward. "He's still finding ways to be funny."

But the Wizards didn't find much humorous through the first 26 minutes against the 76ers, as they found themselves trailing by 18 points early in the third quarter. But with Antawn Jamison scoring a game-high 32 points and Young coming off the bench to add 21, Washington rallied to a 104-97 win against the 76ers and snapped a four-game losing streak. The Wizards (11-21) are 3-0 this season against former coach Eddie Jordan, but they don't face the 76ers again this season.

Arenas scored 19 points, handed out a season-high 14 assists and had a long embrace with one of his hecklers before leaving the court. "I said after the win, I want my hug," he said. "This is a vicious crowd. You don't think I think the fans are going to come out and be the way they are. I'm just going to interact and do what I do."

Brothers Derek and Kevin Hines sat across from the Wizards' bench and held up a sign that read, "Go Sixers, Time To Disarm Agent Zero." During a break in action during the second quarter, a security guard confiscated the sign, balled it up and tossed it in the trash. Fans seated in their section started booing.

Derek Hines, a law student at Villanova, questioned why his sign was taken away, but said the security guard informed him that the NBA had instructed them to remove all signs that targeted Arenas. "It was nothing offensive," Hines said, adding that he and his brother made the sign 30 minutes before leaving their home in Lancaster, Pa., for the game. "The offensive part is, he's bringing guns into the locker room."

For breaking the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, Arenas could get a fine of up to $50,000 and a suspension from NBA Commissioner David Stern. Arenas could be suspended before the legal process plays out.

But one league official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the individual could not make public comments on behalf of Stern, said he likely would wait until he was comfortable with the information he has received before making a decision about Arenas. The CBA prohibits a player from being punished for the same offense twice, which one league source explained as the reason why the Wizards haven't suspended Arenas.

Arenas was asked after the game what he feared more, law enforcement or David Stern?

"Stern is mean," Arenas said. "I think he may make his decision before [the legal process plays out]. Most likely he's getting a lot of pressure, because of all the stories going around, to act. . . . I've looked at some of the charges brought against other people and they were [suspended] three to five games."

The stiffest gun-related penalty Stern has handed out was a seven-game suspension for Stephen Jackson, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony criminal recklessness after firing five shots in a dispute outside an Indianapolis strip club.

Arenas said it is easy for him to stay calm through this tumultuous period. "If I really did something wrong, I would feel remorse in what I did, but I didn't do anything," he said. "You can slander me, or whatever, it doesn't matter. I'm still alive. I'm playing basketball.

"I'll take all the hits right now. The truth is there; there is no point in getting angry and mad," Arenas said. "At the end of the day, all that I want is a sorry. It can be small print. Maybe just one person do it, for slandering me. Because you guys have no idea."

Arenas will celebrate his 28th birthday on Wednesday and will head into another difficult road environment in Cleveland. 'They're worse," Arenas said of Cavaliers' fans. "They hate us."

Jamison was asked after the game what he planned on giving Arenas for his birthday. "A muzzle," he said.

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