On one of Gilbert Arenas’s final nights as a Washington Wizard, he stood in the corridor leading from the locker room to the floor — fearful of being booed almost a year after he and a teammate had irrevocably tarnished themselves and a franchise by bringing guns to Verizon Center.
Asked whether he had spoken to Javaris Crittenton since they were suspended for the remainder of the 2009-10 NBA season and Arenas had spent 30 days in a halfway house, Arenas replied, “No, but I heard he became more hard.”
More hard, he explained, meant “more gangsta.”
“You know, like some people turn over a new leaf when something bad like that changes their life. I heard Javaris went the other way — he became more ’hood, more hardened in that way. I don’t know if that’s the case, but that’s what I heard.”
Crittenton was on the lam for several days after being wanted by Atlanta police in connection with an Aug. 19 murder. He was arrested Monday evening after checking in for a red-eye flight in Orange County, Calif. Shuttled to a Los Angeles police station, he was booked on suspicion of being a fugitive from justice. A federal arrest warrant had been issued after the FBI found out he left his home for Southern California, where he was known to have family and friends, via a one-way ticket.
A woman named Jullian Jones, 22, a mother of four, was struck by gunfire from a black SUV while walking at night with two other men on a Southwest Atlanta street. One of the men, police said, had stolen jewelry from Crittenton, who in retaliation allegedly missed his intended target.
His lawyer said Crittenton had offered to turn himself in to Atlanta authorities on Monday, claiming Crittenton is innocent.
Maybe. Certainly his friends and family and those who came into contact with the quiet loner want to believe that.
But the mere notion of Crittenton as a person of primary interest in the death of another by gunshot instantly has to cast the events of December 2009 in a more disturbing light.
“Oh, I thought about what could have happened worse that day,” said Gilbert Arenas Sr., by telephone from Van Nuys, Calif., on Monday. “Definitely you think about your son being in more harm’s way than you thought at the time. I just pray for the kid and his family and hope what they’re saying isn’t true.”
D.C police never determined whether Crittenton’s gun was loaded almost 20 months ago, two days after Crittenton grew tired of a clowning Arenas on the team plane, telling his teammate he would shoot Arenas in the knee if he didn’t pay off a card-playing debt.
But two eyewitnesses that day in the locker room said Crittenton was contemplating pulling the trigger in response to Arenas laying out four unloaded guns on a towel with a note that read, “PICK 1” — in essence, cryptically daring the reserve guard to carry out his threat. Crittenton, the people in the room that day said, chambered a round in his own revolver. He had live ammunition, they believed, and might not be bluffing.
Never up for debate is what happened next: Unsure of Crittenton’s frame of mind, the room quickly emptied.
All of us have probably run into a serious-as-a-heart-attack individual once or twice in life, someone we just weren’t sure about. As Gilbert Arenas Sr. said: “I remember guys going to their bag to get something and everybody went running from the park. There was always one guy you didn’t want to agitate too much. Or else.”
But was Crittenton really that guy? The hard part today for everyone who spent time around him: They never saw that side.
“All the guys I’ve talked to are like, ‘Can you believe this stuff about Javaris?’ ” said Brendan Haywood, his former teammate in Washington who now plays for the Dallas Mavericks. “This is a grounded guy everybody got along with, real quiet guy. I’m still in shock and think there has to be some mistake.”
So do others, especially the people who knew Crittenton when, who may be wondering where it all went wrong.
He was named a captain his sophomore year in high school, was on a Georgia state championship team featuring Dwight Howard, a senior mentor to his teammate.
A member of the Future Business Leaders of America, Crittenton carried a 3.5 grade point average. He was recruited to Georgia Tech by Paul Hewitt, the current George Mason Coach. Hewitt declined comment Monday, perhaps having trouble with an incongruent thought — how the kid he knew didn’t quite match with the headline, “Crittenton Wanted in a Homicide.”
As crazy as two NBA players mean-mugging each other with weapons in the workplace seemed, the latest awful chapter feels so far away from the drama of 2009.
Javaris Crittenton, murder suspect?
This is a tough one to digest, especially for many of us hanging on Arenas’s every utterance during the ordeal and after he returned from his suspension.
It was all Gilbert, all the time then. Crittenton was the forgotten counterpart, a foil for another mean-spirited Gil prank gone criminally awry. We were so worried whether his all-star career could ever be resurrected, whether Arenas was going to be okay after he pocketed, oh, $20 million per year, that we forgot to check on the guy who very possibly kissed his NBA career goodbye that day.
Waived by the Bobcats in training camp a year ago, hanging on with a developmental league team in Bismarck, N.D., for a part of last season, Crittenton may have had few resources to fall back on when he returned to his native Atlanta for the summer.
Little-known fact uncovered in court documents in the spring of 2010: Crittenton, via text message, asked to borrow thousands from Arenas to help pay his ill mother’s escalating medical bills. Just two months after their confrontation, Arenas obliged.
And yet it goes so much further than money. Whatever unsavory hometown haunts a man returns to after he achieves a measure of notoriety, there’s something completely disconcerting about this story.
An NBA first-round draft choice, Crittenton, less than two years ago, laid his head on the pillows of Four Seasons and Ritz-Carltons. Today, he is in custody in a homicide case.
A mother of four is gone.
And the hoop dreams of a bright, young kid, who as a teen once lofted alley-oop passes to a gangly Dwight Howard for bedazzling dunks, is all but dead.
What a vicious cycle. From nothing to something. And back to nothing again. What a sinister omen those guns in the locker room may soon turn out to be.
The invisible role player in a superstar’s demise is now the unmistakable suspect in a 22-year-old woman’s murder.
For those of us fixated on only the famous falling from grace the past 20 months, who focused on Gilbert Arenas and forgot Javaris Crittenton, tragic doesn’t begin to cover it.