Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Arenas bad act is a foul, but shouldn't be a career ender

By DeWayne Wickham

As knuckleheads go in the world of sports, Gilbert Arenas is an all-star.

Last week, just 18 months after he was signed by the Washington Wizards to a six-year, $111 million contract, Arenas was suspended without pay after he doubled down on an act of stupidity.

His first bad deed came last month when it was discovered he was keeping guns in his locker, a violation of NBA rules. Then while law enforcement and league officials were trying to figure out what to do about that, Arenas poked fun at his predicament by using his fingers to feign a gunfight with teammates during a pregame introduction.

"I'm a goofball and that's what I am,” the nine-year NBA player said of his antics.

But David Stern didn’t think Arenas was funny. "The possession of firearms by an NBA player in an NBA arena is a matter of the utmost concern,” the NBA commissioner said. Stern initially refrained from taking any action while police investigated accusations that Arenas and teammate Jarvis Crittenton pulled guns on each other during a locker room confrontation. But when Arenas mimicked gunplay on an arena floor, Stern got off a shot of his own.

Arenas' "ongoing conduct," Stern said, "has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in a NBA game."

Stern is right. Arenas brought this on himself. The contrition he expressed after the commissioner issued his suspension came too late to stop the raid on his wallet. Now Arenas is certain to pay a stiff price for his mistakes - but it shouldn't end his career.

As far as we know, Arenas is guilty of little more than really bad judgment. By all accounts, the guns he had in his locker were unloaded. And his hand-simulated gunplay was a bit of ill-timed goofiness that harmed nothing more than the sensibilities of league officials. Although the District of Columbia has strict gun laws, as bad acts go in the NBA, Arenas' offense pales in comparison to those of Latrell Sprewell, Ron Artest and Tim Donaghy.

Sprewell, a one-time guard with the Golden State Warriors was suspended for 68-games in 1997 for choking P.J. Carlesimo, the team's coach. He was allowed to return to the NBA and played for two more teams before ending his career in 2005.

In 2004, Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest charged into the stands after a fan who doused him with a cup of beer. His actions sparked a melee between players and fans that resulted in Artest getting a 73-game suspension. He now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Donaghy, a former NBA referee, served 15 months in prison for his role in a league betting scandal. He'll never get to officiate another professional basketball game, which is as it should be.

What Arenas did doesn't rise to the level of those offenses, which is not to say that what he did isn't serious. Gun violence is at epidemic level in far too many parts of this country - something that Abe Pollin, the recently deceased team owner, seemed to acknowledge when he changed the team's name from Bullets to Wizards in 1997.Instead of punishing Arenas with a lengthy suspension, the NBA should impose its own version of community service on him. Arenas can do the league and himself a lot of good by visiting schools in NBA cities to tell students about the harm that can be done when people mishandle guns.

For a goofball like Arenas, that would be a fitting punishment.

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