WASHINGTON –star will have to wait until March to learn if he will be sent to prison for a felony gun conviction, while his future with the NBA sits in limbo.
The charismatic player known as “Agent Zero” was straight-faced and subdued when he pleaded guilty Friday to the charge connected to a locker-room argument with a teammate last month.
Arenas won’t know whether he must serve jail time until his March 26 sentencing and remains free until then. The government indicated it will not seek more than six months, although the judge can give Arenas anywhere from probation to the charge’s maximum term of five years. Guidelines call for six to 12 months.
Arenas did not speak to reporters on the way into D.C. Superior Court — only shaking his head when asked if he wanted to tell fans anything — or when he walked down the block to police headquarters after his 20-minute hearing.
In court, Arenas was barely audible, offering mostly terse answers such as “Yes, your honor” or “No, sir.” Those hands that have made so many shots and earned Arenas millions of dollars were shoved into the pockets of his gray, pinstriped suit. His demeanor stood in stark contrast to the gregarious, blog-writing, jersey-tossing persona that made him a fan favorite. It also contrasted with the player who cracked jokes with reporters and on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the Dec. 21 confrontation with a teammate that ended with guns being displayed.
Indeed, the loudest words Friday came in a statement issued by the Wizards about 2 1/2 hours after the hearing ended.
“Gilbert Arenas has been a cornerstone of the Washington Wizards for six years. We are deeply saddened and disappointed in his actions that have led to the events of this afternoon,” the team said. “Gilbert used extremely poor judgment and is ultimately responsible for his own actions.”
The NBA didn’t comment Friday, while the players’ union offered support, with executive director Billy Huntersaying: “The Players Association will continue to make all of its resources available to Gilbert.”
Arenas was averaging team highs of 22.6 points and 7.2 assists this season for a team in last place in the NBA’s Southeast Division. The Wizards have removed nearly all traces of the once-marketable player from their home arena, including Arenas merchandise with his jersey No. 0 and a huge banner with his photo that used to hang outside.
“He said to me he messed up and he needs to be responsible,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said before playing the Bulls Friday night in Chicago. “He needs to accept his actions.”
His teammates said they would try to carry on without their star and move past the distraction the investigation has brought.
“It’s hard (playing) but it’s been like that the last couple of weeks,”said. “Especially when we had to talk to the (grand) jury and everything. Being on the road right now is good for us, don’t have to talk to lawyers, just go out and play and hopefully get things past us.”
Possession of a gun at an NBA arena is a violation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Last week, commissioner David Stern suspended the 28-year-old Arenas indefinitely, without pay, pending the outcome of the investigation, a move supported by the Wizards. Arenas is in the second season of a six-year, $111 million contract.
Arenas’ NBA future could hinge on the league’s own ongoing investigation, and it’s possible Stern will wait until the sentence is issued before deciding how to punish the three-time All-Star. Arenas’ lawyer, Kenneth Wainstein, asked Judge Robert E. Morin for an earlier sentencing date but was denied.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Kavanaugh said the charge stemmed from a Dec. 19 dispute between Arenas and another Wizards player over a card game on a team flight back from a game in Phoenix. Kavanaugh did not identify the other player, but authorities searched the home of Wizards guard Javaris Crittenton for a gun on Thursday. Crittenton has not been charged, and his agent denied wrongdoing.
Kavanaugh said “the other player” offered to settle matters with a fist fight, but Arenas said he was too old for that and would instead burn the other player’s car or shoot him in the face. The teammate replied he would shoot Arenas in the knee. Arenas missed most of the past two seasons after having a series of operations on his left knee.
Two days later, Kavanaugh said, Arenas brought at least one gun — a .500 Magnum revolver — to the Wizards’ arena in a black backpack, then put four guns on a chair in front of the teammate’s locker with a sign saying, “Pick 1.” Court documents do not specify when Arenas brought the other three guns to the locker room, including a gold-plated Desert Eagle .50-caliber semi-automatic.
According to Kavanaugh, when the other player asked something along the lines of, “What is this?,” Arenas responded with words to the effect of: “You said you were going to shoot me, so pick one.” The other player said he had his own gun, threw one of Arenas’ weapons across the room and then displayed his own firearm, Kavanaugh said.
Arenas had acknowledged keeping guns in his locker — but claimed he wasn’t aware of the law and meant no harm in what he viewed as a “misguided effort to play a joke.” Stern suspended him the day after Arenas pretended to “shoot” teammates by pointing his index fingers at them during a pregame huddle.
In a statement issued by Wainstein after Friday’s hearing, Arenas “accepted full responsibility for his actions, acknowledged that those actions were wrong and against the law, and has apologized to all who have been affected by his conduct.”
When the proceedings were done, when Arenas had finished affixing his signature to documents — the words “United States of America v. Gilbert Arenas” printed in bold on top — he stepped into an adjacent waiting room.
As the door shut, Arenas sat in a chair, lowered his head, and covered his face with his hands.
Updated 01.15.10, 4:30 p.m.
Gilbert Arenas Pleads Guilty To Gun Possession
(AP) Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas pleaded guilty Friday to carrying a pistol without a license in the District of Columbia, a felony conviction that could jeopardize his future in the NBA.
Arenas pleaded guilty to a single count of violating the city’s strict gun laws as part of a plea bargain in D.C. Superior Court.
The charge stems from a Dec. 21 incident in which Arenas admitted that he stored guns in his locker at the Verizon Center and took them out to play a joke on a teammate.
The NBA has suspended him indefinitely. A pre-sentence report is not yet complete, but defense attorney Kenneth Wainstein said Friday that prosecutors have agreed not to seek a sentence longer than the low end of sentencing guidelines. That means Arenas likely faces no more than six months behind bars.
Arenas “accepted full responsibility for his actions, acknowledged that those actions were wrong and against the law, and has apologized to all who have been affected by his conduct,” Wainstein said in a statement.
Ever since Arenas first acknowledged keeping guns in his locker, he has publicly employed the “goof ball” defense, claiming he wasn’t aware of the law, meant no harm and never takes anything seriously.
Wizards teammate Antawn Jamison said Friday he hasn’t talked to Arenas.
“Hopefully he’s doing better than what I’d be doing in the situation or better than I expect,” Jamison said from the team’s morning practice in Chicago. “But one thing about Gilbert, he’s a tough-minded individual.”
The three-time All-Star has acknowledged storing four unloaded guns in his locker at the Verizon Center, saying he wanted to keep them away from his young children and didn’t know it was a violation of the city’s strict gun laws. He says he took them out of the locker Dec. 21 in a “misguided effort to play a joke” on a teammate.
He was charged Thursday, hours after the teammate, Javaris Crittenton, had his northern Virginia apartment searched by police looking for a silver- or chrome-colored semiautomatic handgun with a black handle. The search warrant indicated police were investigating crimes that include brandishing a weapon. No evidence was seized, according to court documents, and Crittenton has not been charged.
Arenas and Crittenton started bickering over gambling losses during a card game on the team plane as the Washington Wizards flew home from a West Coast road trip on Dec. 19. Their dispute became heated when the team reconvened for practice two days later, when Arenas took the guns from his locker. There have been conflicting published accounts as to whether Crittenton also had a gun and whether he drew it on Arenas.
Crittenton has previously said he did nothing wrong, and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, said his client was there during the apartment search.
“It went as smooth as it could have gone,” Bartelstein said.
Even if Arenas avoids jail, the outcome of the legal process will have important implications on his future in the NBA and specifically with the Wizards. Possession of a gun at an NBA arena is a violation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, and last week commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely without pay pending the outcome of the investigation, a move supported by the Wizards.
Stern was particularly upset that Arenas repeatedly joked about the matter with reporters and on Twitter. Arenas at one point said: “I’m a goof ball and that’s what I am, so even doing something like this, I’m going to make fun of it and that’s how I am.”