Michael Wilbon: Gilbert Arenas's career path takes a wrong turn

Star Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, 28, appeared in the D.C. Superior Court to be sentenced for the gun crime he admitted to in January. He has been spared a jail term.
By Michael Wilbon
Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's difficult to imagine any more laughter coming from Gilbert Arenas on this matter of having guns in the locker room. It's safe to assume there will be no more pulling a fake trigger for the cameras, no more Twittering, no more seeing this gun episode as another prank. Even Arenas knows the laughter stops when NBA Commissioner David Stern says you are suspended indefinitely. Wednesday, funny turned into career threatening.

If you read Stern's statement on the matter, where he says, "The actions of Mr. Arenas will ultimately result in a substantial suspension, perhaps worse," it's the "perhaps worse" part that should wipe any smile off Arenas's face for awhile. Not only is the remainder of his $111 million contract in jeopardy, so perhaps are his playing days in the NBA. This indefinite suspension that Stern says ultimately will be "substantial" could last beyond the remainder of the season. Don't be surprised to see consideration of a suspension that goes into the 2011 season. Perhaps beyond that, too.

The first thing we've got here is a career on hold. A still-young man who celebrated his 28th birthday on the same day he was suspended indefinitely, who has played in all-star games and was judged by club management to be a franchise player, is going away for awhile. Investigations may lead to criminal charges. Responsible members of his team no longer want to play with him. He might very well forfeit the remaining $80 million his massive contract is scheduled to pay him.

The saddest part of this story appears to be that Arenas might have mitigated the circumstances had he immediately realized the magnitude of his offense and come forward with a series of sincere apologies. Both lawmakers and NBA officials might have looked at this as an incredibly dumb mistake but one that shouldn't cost a young man his career. But Arenas seemingly followed every apology with a joke . . . or some action that flatly stated he didn't get it. One person close to the situation told me Wednesday night that Arenas appeared so completely disconnected from the reality of his situation that he couldn't possibly be seen fit to be in the workplace.

Stern clearly agreed. Bringing firearms into the locker room, and perhaps engaging teammate Javaris Crittenton (who could be facing his own serious troubles) was made worse by the clowning. Stern said: "I initially thought it prudent to refrain taking immediate action because of the pendency of a criminal investigation involving the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Police Department, and the consideration of this matter by a grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia. For the same reason, I directed the Wizards to refrain from taking any action."

But Arenas's subsequent actions led Stern to conclude "that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game."

Neither, from what we now know, is Crittenton, who brought his own gun to the Wizards' locker room, too. Crittenton will soon find out just how expendable he is. The players' union issued a statement saying it would take appropriate action on Arenas's behalf. But one wonders, given the number of players who are critical of Arenas and his behavior, if the union will be undertaking something of a mock defense. Arenas, bottom line, appears to be in a world of trouble.

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