Citing the serious nature of firearms in the locker room and his "ongoing conduct," NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Gilbert Arenas indefinitely without pay Wednesday pending a league investigation.
“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 said in a statement. "Accordingly, I am suspending Mr. Arenas indefinitely, without pay, effective immediately pending the completion of the investigation by the NBA.”
The swift and potentially severe punishment came less than 24 hours after Arenas mocked the criminal and NBA investigation of his possession of firearms in the Wizards' locker room on Dec. 21 by spraying his teammates with fake gunfire in the pre-game huddle in Philadelphia Tuesday night. That brazen act, and Arenas' latest comments after the game that he didn't do anything wrong by bringing guns to work, prompted Stern to act.
"I initially thought it prudent to refrain from taking immediate action because of the pendency of a criminal investigation," said Stern, who was said to have been livid with Arenas' disregard for the matter and for the damage it has done to the league's image
As in the aftermath of the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004, the length of the suspension will be determined by Stern once all the facts are known and the NBA Players Association has a chance to contest the penalty. But multiple sources told CBSSports.com Wednesday that even Arenas' supporters were stunned by his recent conduct and were bracing for a suspension ranging from 10 games to the rest of the season. The indefinite length of the Palace suspensions was a logistical necessity because one of the teams involved, the Pacers, had a game the next night.
Under the NBA Constitution, Stern has the latitude to fine Arenas as much as $50,000 and suspend him for any length of time or indefinitely. With his pregame antics, captured in photos that began circulating online Tuesday night, Arenas also may have jeopardized a vigorous protest from the players' association, sources said. When a smiling Arenas sprayed imaginary gunfire from his fingers as his teammates egged him on, the three-time All-Star created a snapshot of levity and utter disdain amid another serious and debilitating blow to the NBA’s public image.
Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA Players Association, declined to comment beyond a statement released by his office that the players' association "will continue to monitor the investigation being conducted by law enforcement authorities and the Commissioner's office."
Any player fined more than $50,000 or suspended for more than 12 games for on-court conduct has the right to have his appeal heard by an independent arbitrator. Behavior in the locker room is included in the CBA's definition of the playing court.
Arenas issued a statement Wednesday through his attorney, Ken Wainstein, apologizing for his behavior and saying that he had called Stern in an attempt to apologize.
“I feel very badly that my actions have caused the NBA to suspend me, but I understand why the league took this action," Arenas said. "I put the NBA in a negative light and let down my teammates and our fans. I am very sorry for doing that."
Stern had been following his usual practice of waiting for the criminal probe to conclude before taking action, an approach that also would've given Arenas to opportunity to fulfill his obligation to cooperate with the league investigation. But the scene in Philadelphia Tuesday night, coupled with Arenas' continuous comments mocking the situation, forced Stern's hand.
There is no dispute that a suspension of some length is warranted, considering Arenas has admitted to violating Article VI, Section 9 of the collective bargaining agreement, which forbids players from possessing firearms on league property or during the course of league business. Arenas also told authorities and stated publicly that he removed four firearms from a locked container on Dec. 21 during a dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton. The Wizards first admitted the presence of Arenas' firearms at Verizon Center on Dec. 24, hours after CBSSports.com first reported that the three-time All-Star was under investigation.
Sources familiar with the incident told CBSSports.com that Arenas and Crittenton had a disagreement over a card game on the team's flight from Phoenix to Washington on Dec. 19. Before a practice on Dec. 21, the sources said, Arenas placed the firearms on Crittenton's locker chair and indicated that he should "pick one." Crittenton became angry and knocked the weapons to the ground.
One theory circulating Wednesday among league officials gathered at the D-League Showcase in Boise, Idaho, is that Arenas intended for Crittenton to pick one of the firearms as repayment for the card-game debt. But if true, that would not diminish Arenas' guilt in the eyes of the league or prosecutors in Washington, D.C., where registered firearms are not permitted anywhere but in the home.
For their part, the Wizards issued a strong statement endorsing Stern's decision and invoking the name of late owner Abe Pollin, who had the team's name changed from Bullets to Wizards to avoid associating the franchise with gun violence.
“We fully endorse the decision of the NBA to indefinitely suspend Gilbert Arenas," the Wizards said. "Strictly legal issues aside, Gilbert’s recent behavior and statements, including his actions and statements last night in Philadelphia, are unacceptable. Some of our other players appeared to find Gilbert’s behavior in Philadelphia amusing. This is also unacceptable. Under Abe Pollin’s leadership, our organization never tolerated such behavior, and we have no intention of ever doing so.”
The Wizards’ options for terminating Arenas’ contract, which has four years and $80.1 million remaining after this season, would be an “uphill battle,” according to an attorney familiar with termination provisions in the CBA. An exception to the “one penalty rule,” which states that players cannot be punished by the league and their team for the same offense, only applies “if the egregious nature of the act or conduct is so lacking in justification as to warrant such double penalty,” according to the CBA. An example of such conduct would be a violent attack against a team official other than a player, a clause that was added after Latrell Sprewell choked then-Golden State head coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997.