Javaris Crittenton’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful possession of a firearm Monday cleared one of the final hurdles before the David Stern Department of Justice can render its decision.
That is expected to happen, sources said, once investigators and lawyers from the NBA security department speak with Crittenton – that is, if they haven’t already.
The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement requires players facing discipline to cooperate with league investigators once they are out of legal jeopardy. Crittenton’s plea and sentence of one year probation and a $1,000 fine (plus $250 in court costs) cleared the way for him to share his version of the facts with the league.
The proffer of facts presented Monday by prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia revealed that there was “no evidence” Crittenton’s firearm – a 9mm semi-automatic Taurus – was loaded when he pulled it out of his backpack during a dispute with Arenas in the Verizon Center locker room on Dec. 21. Prosecutors also stated: “There also is no evidence that Crittenton ever chambered a round, pulled back the hammer, raised or pointed the firearm, or otherwise brandished the firearm in a threatening manner at any time during this incident.”
The government’s version of events supported earlier statements by Crittenton’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, who had said that his client did not brandish a gun during the argument with Arenas. But does that mean Crittenton – or Arenas, for that matter – will be viewed more favorably by Stern? Most likely not, and here’s why:
The closest precedents for this case are Stephen Jackson’s seven-game suspension for firing a gun into the air outside an Indianapolis strip club in 2006, and two gun-related suspensions assessed to Sebastian Telfair. In 2005, Telfair was suspended two games when a gun was found in his luggage on a team flight, and in 2008 he was suspended three games after getting pulled over with a loaded gun in his car. With the public calling for – and the players association bracing for – a lengthy suspension for Arenas of between 25 games and the rest of the season, how can Stern go there when at least some of the facts acknowledged by prosecutors suggest a tone more consistent with a practical joke than a gun battle? How could Arenas’ suspension stretch many times longer than those given to Jackson and Telfair?
Here’s how: First of all, witnesses who were in the locker room at the time of the incident gave conflicting accounts to the authorities as to whether Crittenton’s gun was loaded. You and I would do the same. How would you know? One source told CBSSports.com that the players present – Randy Foye, Mike Miller, and DeShawn Stevenson – ran out of the locker room when the guns came out. As you might imagine, nobody in his right mind is going to stick around to find out if the guns are loaded. Even under some aspects of the D.C. criminal code, brandishing an unloaded gun carries the same penalty as brandishing a loaded one because potential victims have no way of telling the difference.
Also, Arenas and Crittenton crossed a precedent-setting line that neither Jackson nor Telfair crossed: They brought the guns onto NBA property – i.e., the locker room – and worse than that, they took them out. This, along with Arenas’ decision to mock the seriousness of gun play with his fake-guns display in a pre-game huddle on Jan. 5, set him up for a lengthy ban by Stern. The only factor in Arenas’ favor, in my opinion, is the suspension that is pending for the Cavaliers’ Delonte West, who was pulled over in Maryland last year carrying a loaded arsenal. If Arenas gets 50 games, what does West get? A hundred?
Aside from NBA investigators interviewing Crittenton, one other issue will have to be resolved before this is over. Under the CBA, players who have committed on-court transgressions are eligible to appeal suspensions of longer than 12 games to a grievance arbitrator. In all other cases, Stern is the arbitrator – and you can imagine the success rate of those appeals. After the Palace brawl in 2004, the definition of “on-court” was expanded to include areas like arena hallways (known as vomitories) and the locker room. But a distinction was made to specify violations committed “at, during, or in connection with” an NBA game. Since the Arenas-Crittenton incident occurred on a practice day, it is likely that an arbitrator will have to rule on whether he can hear the appeal before actually ruling on it.
Either way, all signs point to a whopping punishment coming from the commissioner’s office. All things considered, I would recommend that Mr. Arenas and Mr. Crittenton get hobbies.