NEW YORK - When Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton brought their dispute to work, they needed to leave the guns home.
Instead, the Washington Wizards guards became the first players to violate NBA rules prohibiting firearms on team property, and commissioner David Stern suspended both without pay for the remainder of the season Wednesday.
Stressing that guns in the workplace “will not be tolerated,” Stern delivered the punishment after meeting with Arenas earlier Wednesday, and with Crittenton a day before. Arenas already had been suspended indefinitely by Stern on Jan. 6.
“We have preached to (players) in writing and actually in person on this very subject and nevertheless they brandished firearms and that just can’t be tolerated,” Stern said on a conference call. “And if there’s any doubt to any of our players about it in the future, we will be dealing with this in an even more severe way.”
Both players admitted bringing a gun or guns into the Wizards’ locker room — violating a provision added to the collective bargaining agreement in 2005 — after a dispute stemming from a card game on a team flight. Stern said the players expressed remorse, but added, “nevertheless, there is no justification for their conduct.”
Asked what message the penalties sent, Stern said: “We mean what we say when we say that guns are prohibited from being in our buildings and on team business.
“And if you violate that prohibition, which is an agreement between the players’ association and the NBA, you will be dealt with harshly because it’s very potentially dangerous to our players, to the other players and to anyone else who might be involved.”
Arenas, who is forfeiting about $147,200 per game, had already been suspended indefinitely earlier this month. Crittenton, who met with Stern on Tuesday, will lose about $13,435 per game, or $510,530, from his $1.48 million salary.
Arenas pleaded guilty Jan. 15 to a felony gun charge after a confrontation with Crittenton at the Verizon Center. Arenas, who is scheduled to be sentenced March 26, is in the second season of a six-year, $111 million contract and will be docked $7.36 million.
“Mr. Arenas recognizes that his actions were a serious violation of the law and league rules and were detrimental to the NBA and its reputation,” said Arenas’ attorney, Ken Wainstein. “He accepts full responsibility for what he did, and takes no issue with the length of the suspension or the process that led to the Commissioner’s decision.”
Arenas has asked the players’ association not to contest the penalty, while Crittenton’s plans haven’t been determined. His agent, Mark Bartelstein, told The Associated Press that, “David Stern has done what he thinks is right for the league. We’re going to look at it and talk about it with Javaris and the players’ association.”
The Wizards have 38 games left in a woeful season that was thrown into turmoil when news of the confrontation involving the guns broke on Christmas Eve. The team has distanced itself from Arenas since Stern indefinitely suspended him, removing his likeness from the Verizon Center. Crittenton has been injured and wasn’t playing, anyway.
The team said it supported Stern’s ruling, saying the poor judgment “stands in contrast to everything Abe Pollin stood for throughout his life.”
“It brings a little bit of closure to a situation that’s been very frustrating, very distracting and bothersome to our organization, to our coaches, to our players, most importantly to our fans,” team president Ernie Grunfeld said.
“Now it’s time for us to move forward. We have to move forward, we have to regroup.”
Arenas, a three-time All-Star and once the face of the Wizards’ franchise, will miss the final 50 games of the season. Stern originally planned to follow his normal policy of waiting until the legal process was further along before acting, but handed down the initial suspension after Arenas joked about the gun situation on his Twitter page, then was photographed before a game in Philadelphia pointing his index fingers, as if they were guns, at his teammates.
“I felt that I should do something to keep Arenas from doing — keep Gilbert from doing — even further damage to himself and I told him that,” Stern said. “We also try to protect (players) from doing things that are foolish and damaging. I felt that Gilbert was in the process of doing that and it was incumbent on me to stop it.”
Stern said he would not advise the Wizards on how they should proceed if they sought to void the remainder of Arenas’ contract. Players’ association executive director Billy Hunter warned the union “will respond aggressively to any improper attempt by the team to impose additional penalties.”
Stern said he and Hunter would meet in the coming weeks to perhaps build a stronger gun policy than the one in the collective bargaining agreement.
And the Wizards will have to decide if they’ll still have a place for Arenas when his suspension ends.
“Bringing handguns into the workplace ... is unacceptable. You can’t do it. You want your employees to feel safe, and we’re lucky that something worse or something serious didn’t come out of it,” Grunfeld said. “I think the league has to send a very strong message. We have to send a very strong message also.”
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