David Stern Swiftly and Decisively Responds to Gilbert Arenas' FoolishnessIf you think that NBA Commissioner David Stern's indefinite suspension of Gilbert Arenas is premature or too harsh then I suggest that you roll up to your workplace with four firearms, openly display them in front of other employees and then make jokes while your employer and various government agencies investigate your conduct; if you really believe that you could act that way and keep your job please stop reading right now: I want this to be an idiot-free zone.
I do not believe in engaging in speculation or jumping to conclusions, so let's just recap the publicly known facts about the Gilbert Arenas situation: Arenas has admitted to removing four guns from his residence, bringing those guns to his workplace and displaying them in the locker room in front of his teammates. What happened after that may have simply been some joking around that was not very funny or it may have been a very serious confrontation that could have ended tragically; the police, the federal authorities, the NBA and the Washington Wizards will sort all of that out soon enough--but just on the basis of what Arenas has confirmed about this matter it is clear that Arenas earned himself at the very least a multi-game suspension and a heavy fine in addition to whatever punishment the legal system may proscribe. Not content to dig himself--and his team--that big of a hole, Arenas displayed stupidity, immaturity and foolishness by continuing to make light of his misconduct, telling jokes long after anyone--except perhaps for a few of his misguided teammates--stopped laughing.
Initially, Stern pledged to withhold judgment until the legal process ran its course but then Arenas pretended to turn his fingers into six shooters prior to Washington's 104-97 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday; after that game, Arenas told the assembled reporters that he feared Stern more than the police because Stern "is mean" but Arenas refused to apologize for his actions, declaring "If I really did something wrong, I would feel remorse." This is known as waving a red flag in front of a bull or, pardon the pun, shooting yourself in the foot with both barrels blazing. Stern chose the perfect phrase to explain the reasoning behind reversing course and suspending Arenas immediately, declaring that Arenas "is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game."
Arenas plays--or, rather, played--for a team whose recently deceased owner Abe Pollin abhorred gun violence so much that he changed the franchise's name from "Bullets" to "Wizards." Arenas plays--or, rather, played--in a league run by a Commissioner who boldly stated in the wake of the "Malice at the Palace" that the vote to suspend Ron Artest for nearly an entire season was "unanimous, one to nothing"; Stern is not an ineffectual dupe prone to shutting his eyes while illegal performance-enhancing drugs destroy the credibility of his sport's treasured historical records or to impotently shrugging his shoulders while fans boo as an All-Star Game ends in a tie: Stern is known to act swiftly and decisively, so it is not at all surprising that Arenas' clueless lack of repentance and perspective earned him an indefinite suspension accompanied by Stern's ominous warning that this discipline is just a preliminary response by the NBA prior to its final ruling about this matter, which will be "a substantial suspension, perhaps worse." In other words, "Keep running your mouth and cracking jokes, Gilbert, and you can not only kiss this season goodbye but you will also lose the remaining $80 million on your contract--and perhaps the opportunity to ever play in the league again."
Even Arenas stopped laughing after Stern's verdict, belatedly trying to get on Stern's good side by issuing the kind of statement that he should have made when this fiasco began. Paraphrasing what Scottie Pippen said after Dennis Rodman sent him an apology letter for slamming him into a basket stanchion, it would be easier to take Arenas' post-suspension statement seriously if we believed that he actually wrote it; it seems unlikely that the terminally clueless Arenas suddenly found just the right words to say but much more likely that someone in his inner circle of agents/advisers is belatedly trying to salvage what remains of Arenas' career/contract.
The sad denouement of Arenas' career is predictable--not the specifics or the timing but rather the inevitable realization that he does not have the leadership qualities/skill set to lead a team into championship contention. While many members of the media--and many mindless fan bloggers--have been pumping up Arenas for years, I have consistently maintained that he is vastly overrated, an All-Star level player who never should have been considered to be a truly elite player. I have never understood the double standard that has made hard-working, future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens--a player who has established himself as one of the most productive receivers in NFL history while never getting in trouble off of the field--a figure who the media mocks and reviles while simultaneously transforming Arenas into a cult hero.
That deification of Arenas no doubt is why so many self-proclaimed experts expected the Wizards to be a serious Eastern Conference contender this year; someone at the Sporting News smoked some crack last summer and actually predicted that the Wizards would be the third best team in the NBA! As I noted in my Eastern Conference Preview, Arenas has never led the Wizards to more than 45 wins, so even with the Wizards' much ballyhooed offseason additions and the return to health of several players (including Arenas) it did not seem likely that the Wizards would exceed that total or finish better than sixth in the Eastern Conference. Thus far, the Wizards have fallen far short of even my measured expectations, currently ranking 11th in the Eastern Conference with an 11-22 record. The Wizards have certainly underachieved so far and thus it would not at all be surprising if they make a run at the eighth seed even without Arenas; the team would actually be better off following the lead of Antawn Jamison, whose maturity and professionalism are a marked contrast to Arenas' modus operandi: Arenas is such a loud, commanding presence that it seems like the team gravitates more to him even when he leads them down the wrong path--not even so much off the court but rather in terms of poor shot selection and lack of defensive intensity, because much like Kobe Bryant's focus, drive and work ethic transformed the Lakers in a positive way Arenas' negative traits have had an obvious negative effect on how the Wizards prepare and thus on how they perform during games.
Prior to Arenas' gun fiasco, sympathetic media members tried to excuse his play this season by saying that he is not 100% physically but--whether or not that is true--the reality is that his statistics this season largely mirror his career numbers; Arenas has always been in the Stephon Marbury mold, a guy who can put up 20-plus points and a half dozen or more assists while not having a significant positive impact on the outcome of the game.
It would be nice if all of those fools who disagreed with me years ago about Arenas admitted that they were wrong--but remember, this is an idiot-free zone, so they stopped reading this post after the first paragraph, and they are currently browsing SlamOnline (or maybe even writing for SlamOnline) while dreaming of the day that Stern reinstates Arenas so that Arenas can lead the Wizards to the NBA Finals.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:57 AM