Courtside stories: how love for guns ruined NBA careers

arenas-crittentonOften promising NBA careers abruptly end, sometimes for disappointing reasons. Some NBA players struggle with their drug or alcohol addiction, others cannot get rid of their gambling habits. Sometimes, it gets further than that…

In 2009-2010 NBA season, former NBA stars Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton got both suspended for the whole season, and soon were gone from the NBA.

What started as a card game on a flight turned into an standoff with armed guns, that luckily didn’t lead to any casualties. The incident ruined both men’s careers and was a sign of worse times to come.

Arenas would be charged with gun possession, and would be gone within the year and was out of the NBA two seasons later. Crittenton also never played again in the NBA. At the time he got away with receiving one year of probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor gun possession charge.

Later, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for a  gang-land shooting gone wrong. Crittenton missed his target and shot a mother of four children. Prosecutors at the time said the shooting was gang-related and retaliation against a person Crittenton believed had robbed him.

All this could have been avoided. A teammate of Arenas and Crittenton, Caron Butler, in his book “Tuff Juice: My Journey from the Streets to the NBA” told the story of how it all happened.

The story began on a flight back from a game in Phoenix when Arenas and Crittenton were playing cards. Despite Crittenton’s objections, Arenas scooped up an $1100 pile of cash sitting on the table and refused to give it back.

“I ain’t putting (expletive) back,” said Arenas, according to Butler’s recollection. “Get it the way Tyson got the title. Might or fight or whatever you got to do to get your money back. Otherwise, you ain’t gettin’ it.”

The pair had to be separated by teammates when Crittenton lunged at Arenas. They continued to argue as the team exited the plane and then the threats got serious, according to Butler’s book.

“I’ll see your (expletive) at practice and you know what I do,” Gilbert said.

“What the (expletive) you mean, you know what I do?” replied Javaris.

“I play with guns.”

“Well I play with guns, too.”

It got worse, as Butler wrote how what started on the plane continued in the Wizards’ locker room.

When I entered the locker room, I thought I had somehow been transported back to my days on the streets of Racine. Gilbert was standing in front of his two locker stalls, the ones previously used by Michael Jordan, with four guns on display. Javaris was standing in front of his own stall, his back to Gilbert.

“Hey, MF, come pick one,” Gilbert told Javaris while pointing to the weapons. “I’m going to shoot your [expletive] with one of these.”

“Oh no, you don’t need to shoot me with one of those,” said Javaris, turning around slowly like a gunslinger in the Old West. “I’ve got one right here.”

He pulled out his own gun, already loaded, cocked it, and pointed it at Gilbert.

Other players who had been casually arriving, laughing and joking with each other, came to a sudden halt, their eyes bugging out. It took them only a few seconds to realize this was for real, a shootaround of a whole different nature. They all looked at each other and then they ran, the last man out locking the door behind him.

I didn’t panic because I’d been through far worse, heard gunshots more times than I could count, and seen it all before. This would have been just another day on the south side.

I talked calmly to Javaris, reminding him that his entire career, not to mention, perhaps, his life, would be over if he flicked that trigger finger.

I looked back at Gilbert. He was silent as he removed himself from the scene.

Javaris slowly lowered the gun.

I know that Gilbert was thinking, “I went too far. I had a gun pointed at me and it was loaded.”

Somebody outside the locker room called 911. Flip Saunders was the coach back then, but he was too scared to even come into the locker room.

In the end, Arenas refused to give back $1100 but when both players were suspended for the remainder of the season it cost him $7.5 million in lost wages.

Hopefully, this story of what might have been a beginning of something good for the Washington Wizards at the time, will serve as a vivid example to some athletes.

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