By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 2010; A01
National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern suspended Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas indefinitely without pay Wednesday, saying a gun incident in the Wizards' locker room last month and Arenas's behavior since had led him to conclude "that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game."
Stern's action, announced in a scathing statement issued from his office in New York, cast into doubt the future career of one of Washington's most colorful athletes who once delighted fans with his all-star play but has been seeking to regain his form this year after missing most of the past two seasons with a knee injury.
It also came as new details emerged about the locker-room confrontation between Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, a Wizards teammate, on Dec. 21 that suggest a potentially far more volatile incident than was originally reported by Arenas to team officials.
The two players had been arguing during a card game on the Wizards' flight back from Phoenix Dec. 19, and the dispute spilled into the team locker room at Verizon Center before practice two days later. Arenas has acknowledged bringing his handguns to the arena and displaying them in the locker room that morning in what he maintained was a playful gesture aimed at his teammate.
According to two first-hand accounts of the confrontation, Crittenton responded to Arenas's action -- which included laying the four unloaded weapons in Crittenton's cubicle with a note that read, "Pick One" -- by brandishing his own firearm, loading the gun and chambering a round.
Two of the five people in the room that morning, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Arenas had originally not disclosed Crittenton's action to protect the little-used guard from prosecution and had told Crittenton he would assume full responsibility for the actions of both players that day.
In a two-hour interview with police and federal prosecutors Monday, Arenas, in his version of the story, spoke of Crittenton's loaded gun, a person with knowledge of Arenas's testimony said.
Mark Bartlestein, Crittenton's agent, declined to comment. Crittenton, in a series of text messages responding to a request for comment, said the account provided by the witnesses was "false."
"I have done nothing wrong. Let the investigation process take its course and you will see that," he said. "My name is dying in this situation."
Crittenton has been injured all season and has yet to play in a game. Arenas signed a six-year, $111 million contract in July 2008, $80 million of which remains after this season.
Neither the NBA nor the Wizards would comment Wednesday on the depth of Crittenton's involvement. But officials from both the team and the league, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had heard the version of the story told by people who witnessed the altercation.
"We still don't know all the details yet," a senior Wizards official said. "That's just one version of the story we heard."
A source familiar with Monday's meeting between Arenas and police and prosecutors said that prosecutors agreed to only use Arenas's statements as part of their investigation, not as direct evidence to be presented to the grand jury or to be used during a trial or hearing. Also, Arenas told prosecutors Monday that he would be willing to meet with them again or appear before a grand jury in the coming days if they requested.
Prosecutors began presenting evidence to a D.C. Superior Court grand jury in the case Tuesday. The case is still being investigated by the police and the league, which has yet to interview all players involved. D.C. police declined to comment.A 'respected' decision
Arenas, reached by telephone in his Cleveland hotel room, where he watched the Wizards lose to the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, said he "respected" Stern's decision to suspend him.
"He is the same man who put me on my second all-star team after I got snubbed by the coaches," Arenas added. "That decision came down for me. He made a tougher decision today that went against me. And I have to accept it."
In his statement, Stern held out the prospect of a prolonged suspension for Arenas, who turned 28 Wednesday.
"The possession of firearms by an NBA player in an NBA arena is a matter of the utmost concern to us," Stern said. "Although it is clear that the actions of Mr. Arenas will ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse, his ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game."
Stern, who originally had said through the league that he would wait until the police investigation concluded before taking action, decided to act after Arenas playfully formed his hands into pistols and pretended he was shooting his teammates as the Wizards huddled courtside before their game against the 76ers in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
The Wizards issued a statement supporting the commissioner's move. "Strictly legal issues aside, Gilbert's recent behavior and statements, including his actions and statements last night in Philadelphia, are unacceptable," said the team's statement, which was signed by team President Ernie Grunfeld; Irene Pollin, the widow of late owner Abe Pollin; and their two sons. "Some of our other players appeared to find Gilbert's behavior in Philadelphia amusing. This is also unacceptable."
Arenas has maintained that he brought the four guns to Verizon Center and put them in a locked container to get them out of his Virginia home following the birth of his third child Dec. 9. They were taken by arena security after the incident.
Crittenton's gun, according to the witnesses of the altercation, was never found. Both witness accounts said they were unclear how the gun was disposed of.
Preston Burton, a defense attorney and former assistant U.S. attorney in the District, said it would be difficult to build a criminal case against Crittenton based on the scenario described by the witnesses. He said prosecutors would look at factors, including whether they could prove Crittenton had a weapon, and whether the gun was real.
"It's going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make a case without a gun," Burton said.'Not the hoodlum'
In the telephone interview, Arenas hoped he could soon meet with Stern.
"That's not so I can ask him to reinstate me right now," Arenas said. "I just want to remind him of who I am. I'm the kid who jumped off the trampoline at the all-star game, the kid who throws his jersey to people in the stands. I'm not the hoodlum that's being written and talked about right now.
"I'm sorry for my teammates, the city of Washington, the memory of Mr. Pollin and his family, and all my fans that support me and the game of basketball. I mean that. This shouldn't have happened. It shouldn't have got this far. I know that."
The dispute between Arenas and Crittenton began on the team plane during a popular card game between players called "Boo-ray." Crittenton lost roughly $1,100 to JaVale McGee, a Wizards center, in the game, according to a player who watched the game and who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Crittenton, already angry over a dispute over the game's rules, became irate when Arenas began needling him.
Their barbs escalated to a point where Arenas, smiling, said he would blow up Crittenton's car, according to two players on the flight, who requested anonymity. Crittenton replied that he would shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee.
Walking into the locker room two days after the dispute on the team plane, according to two witnesses, Arenas laid out the guns in Crittenton's locker. Two other teammates eventually sauntered in and, while Arenas was writing the note in front of Crittenton's cubicle, in walked Crittenton, according to their account.
Asking Arenas what he was doing, Arenas replied, "If you want to shoot me, I'd just thought I'd make it easy for you." As other teammates laughed, Crittenton crumpled up the paper, tossed one of Arenas's guns across the room, where it bounced in front of a team trainer, and said he didn't need any of Arenas's firearms because he had his own, according to the witness accounts.
Crittenton then drew his weapon, loaded it and chambered a round, the witnesses said.
Neither witness said the gun was ever pointed at Arenas, but both said Crittenton began singing as he held the gun.
Arenas began laughing, the witnesses said, telling Crittenton, "Look at that little shiny gun," as two other players slowly retreated to the training room.
Arenas eventually followed. By the time the players came back out, Crittenton was gone.
It was unclear Wednesday when Arenas's suspension might be lifted.
An NBA official said equating Arenas's indefinite suspension as a precursor to a lifetime ban for Arenas would not be accurate, especially given the fact that Arenas has yet to be charged in the case.
Arenas, who was told by his attorneys not to comment directly on the details of the case, said, "I'm sorry for what happened and how people took that."
"The gun charge, I'm taking serious," he said in the interview. "The media painting a picture of me, casting me as someone I'm not, that's what I reacted to. I'm reacting to what people are saying about me not the seriousness of the situation."
Staff writers Maria Glod, Keith L. Alexander and Michael Lee in Cleveland contributed to this report.