Washington Wizards move on as references to Arenas disappear from Verizon Center

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 9, 2010; D01

A few pairs of Adidas sneakers and an autographed Sam Cassell basketball card was all that could be found in Gilbert Arenas's otherwise empty locker room stall on Friday. After the Washington Wizards pulled out an emotional 104-97 win over the Orlando Magic, DeShawn Stevenson buttoned his blue shirt and glanced over at the spot that his neighbor usually occupied and said he would like to see Arenas sitting under his name plate again before this season ends.

"Me and him got a real close relationship. He's like a brother to me," Stevenson said. "My thing is to see him back. If he doesn't, I hope to see him in an NBA uniform. When a person gets kicked down so much -- I've been there before -- I just want to be as positive as I can. Mentally, it's just trying."

It was easy to understand why the Wizards' minds weren't completely on basketball before facing the Magic. Earlier in the day, Randy Foye and Fabricio Oberto had to speak to law enforcement officials about the Gilbert Arenas weapons possession case. On Thursday, Coach Flip Saunders had to do the same.

And they all had to prepare to play their first home game without Arenas while the team continues to remove the image of the former face of the franchise.

Arenas's No. 0 jersey and other merchandise were no longer on sale in the arena, and his highlights were removed from all pregame videos. This came a day after a large banner of Arenas was taken down from the Sixth Street side of the building. Reached by telephone on Friday, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld denied that the organization is distancing itself from Arenas after NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended the three-time all-star indefinitely for his conduct after it was revealed that he got into a dispute involving guns with teammate Javaris Crittenton.

"We're not phasing Gilbert out," Grunfeld said. "We're just focusing on the players that we have available to us."

Saunders was asked if the team was preparing to play without Arenas for the remainder of the season and he said: "I think you have to, right now. That's right now how we're approaching it, because we don't know. 'Indefinite' means 'indefinite.' "

Before stepping on the court for the game, team captain Antawn Jamison addressed a sellout crowd to discuss a controversial photograph of Arenas forming his hands in the shape of guns and playfully "shooting" his teammates in a pregame huddle in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"We know it's been a trying week," Jamison told the crowd. "One thing that my teammates and I take very seriously, is that being a positive role model is something is something that we don't take lightly. We're going to do everything in our power, as long as I'm your captain, as long as these guys are my teammates, to make this one of the most respectable organizations in the league."

"This is a serious situation," Jamison, who was among the players captured laughing in the picture, said after the game. "We never meant to make light of the situation."

The Wizards fined Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Randy Foye and Andray Blatche $10,000 each on Friday for their roles in Tuesday's incident. "I ain't going to lie," Blatche said. "It was wrong."

Saunders said before the game that this has been a difficult time for everyone within the organization. "I think right now, there is no question it's a distraction," he said.

Saunders also said that he banned cards and gambling from all team charter flights after a Dec. 21 incident involving Arenas and Crittenton. Wizards players were involved in the card game bourré when Arenas needled Crittenton for losing at least $1,000. Arenas and Crittenton exchanged harsh words afterward, with Arenas threatening to blow up Crittenton's car and Crittenton threatening to shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired left knee. Arenas is currently being investigated by the NBA and federal and local authorities for bringing four guns to Verizon Center. He claims that he displayed as "a misguided effort to play a joke on a teammate."

Saunders said he had to make the ban on gambling "to avoid those situations," a decision that Grunfeld supported.

The New York Times reported on Friday that the New Jersey Nets are no longer permitting gambling on the team plane and that the NBA is considering new gambling restrictions for players. League spokesman Tim Frank said the league has yet to make a decision. "Historically this has been a team issue," Frank said.

Saunders said that he testified before a grand jury on Thursday. Stevenson said that he met with his lawyer and plans on meeting with law enforcement officials soon. Foye admitted to meeting with investigators for nearly two hours on Friday afternoon. "I just went in there, everything I said was truthful," Foye said.

Aside from a disappointing performance on the court, the Wizards have been dealing with several off-court problems this season, the latest involving Arenas. Jamison joked that his New Year's resolution was to have fun, but he hasn't had much to smile about since 2010 began.

"It's been going on too long, long enough," Jamison said. "We definitely sick of it -- too much negative publicity and I think guys are just to the point where we just want to get some positive publicity and turn things around and start winning some games, start having fun. We haven't had fun in a while."

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