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Friday, January 08, 2010

David Stern Swiftly and Decisively Responds to Gilbert Arenas' Foolishness

If 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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:57 AM



At Friday, January 08, 2010 9:16:00 AM, Blogger http://www.ehow.com/members/stevemar2-articles.html said...

Gilbert Arenas is an idiot! I hope he gets locked up for his actions and never plays in the NBA again. Losing millions of dollars will surely teach him a lesson.

At Friday, January 08, 2010 8:51:00 PM, Blogger lifewithjeffandmary said...

Why the bitterness? You routinuely post excellent, well thought out basketball stories here, such as the article above...except for the name calling.

Don't let the other guys get under your skin. It is beneath you to engage in name calling.

I come here for an adult perspective and articles written without hero-worship. Generally, I find it. Keep above the rabble and keep producing excellent articles.


At Saturday, January 09, 2010 5:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I understand and appreciate your perspective regarding what you term "name-calling." I prefer to consider it calling out writers and publications who produce substandard work. Few people have the guts to say that True Hoop contains a lot of crap--pieces that are tendentious, misleading, frivolous or severely flawed in other ways--because everyone wants the grand wizard Henry Abbott to link to them. Abbott claims that he links without prejudice to the best basketball writing that he can find anywhere--from big publications to tiny blogs--but if you have any familiarity with what is being published then Abbott's biases and blind spots become readily apparent.

Few people have the guts to say that a substantial portion of the stuff that appears under the Slam/SlamOnline logos is poorly written and sloppily researched; their "game notes" stories are so amateurish that it would be comical if it were not so sad.

As a basketball fan and a fan of great writing I am appalled by superficial "analysis" and subpar writing--and as a professional writer I am dismayed to see no-talent hacks given opportunities and exposure that rightly belongs to people who have actually honed their craft, to borrow the apt phrase that Steve Young uses to describe quarterbacks who take pride in sharpening their skills.

If the worst thing that can be said about me as a writer is that I do not hesitate to call out so-called professionals who are producing subpar work then I can live with that.

In one segment of the great Steely Dan Making of "Peg" video, Becker and Fagin review several audition tapes that were not quite up to their standards and conclude with ironic understatement, "It speaks for itself." Perhaps I could/should take a similarly ironic, understated approach regarding the flaws of True Hoop, Slam/SlamOnline and others but (1) I think that this would be so subtle as to go largely unnoticed and (2) that simply is not my style--I go straight for the throat and I call it like I see it, holding back nothing.

However, if anyone wants to see some things that speak for themselves, read a few of the pieces in the right hand sidebar of the main page of this website and compare them to what you find at ESPN, Slam/SlamOnline (or anywhere else that publishes basketball-related articles). Such a comparison truly "speaks for itself."

At Monday, January 11, 2010 7:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually dig your articles and despite the implication that I am an idiot I believe an indefinite unpaid suspension is beyond the bounds of what Stern should have done. Disregard the mere aleatorical happenstance that the Wizards used to be the Bullets and that the owner just shuffled loose his mortal coil. Let us ask how many NBA players carry hand guns and how many bring them to the arena? I don't know if he has a permit or if they are legal in his area of residence but that makes it a matter of law, and the whole presumption of innocence in this case is out the window merely because Arenas is blithe about it and mocks the situation by using his fingers in mimesis? Really, that's what pushed Stern over the top? A pair of -litterally- 'hand' guns? The fact that humans make light of their situations to relieve stress? Does it not seem like Arenas is taking the brunt of [mis-]conceptions of the NBA as a bunch of thugs? And hasn't he been hung out to dry by the Player' Association which IN ANY OTHER YEAR WOULD BE FIGHTING THIS TOOTH AND NAIL, but since it happens to be the last year of the CBA are remaining mum [D-Fish needs to really speak up IMO]? And what about Crittendon who it has been acknowledged threatened to shoot Arenas and pulled if not pointed a loaded gun at Arenas? What kind of double standard, and patent schism of judgment is this? It seems like a perfect storm; regret over an undeserved contract; the present and past history of the franchise; the perceptions of the league; and too many other things to list concerning the attitudes towards specific players and their lifestyles.

A suspension is fine; indefinite- say until charges are filed- absurd and a terrible precedent as well as beyond any specific rationication that has been evinced other than Stern wording his suspension as averring Arenas not presently capable of playing basketball, whatever nebulous rubric that entails.

At Monday, January 11, 2010 8:33:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


How many NBA players carry handguns is irrelevant if those players have permits and are carrying their guns legally and in accordance with NBA rules. Arenas has previously been suspended by the NBA for violating gun rules and is currently potentially facing federal gun charges.

Despite the fact that Arenas is a previous offender who may have committed a felony, David Stern initially waited to issue any punishment and asked that the Wizards likewise refrain from taking any action until the legal process ran its course. Stern only changed direction when Arenas made it abundantly clear that he has absolutely no sense just how serious this issue is. Nick Young has confirmed that if Arenas had not been suspended then he and Arenas were going to count off 10 paces and then pretend to shoot at each other before the game versus the Cavs. I try to be measured and fair in the way that I characterize people but there is a reason that I used the term "foolishness" in the title of this post: Arenas is a fool in every sense of the word--he is immature and he is reckless and his "antics" have cast a shadow not just on himself but on his teammates, his franchise and the entire league.

While it is true that people use humor as a coping mechanism at times, there is a proper time and place for everything. Arenas' jokes and comments in the wake of his confrontation with Crittenton simply are not funny and are completely inappropriate.

I have no doubt that the Players Association will at some point jump in and try to help Arenas at but first they are trying to see just how much damage Arenas has done to himself and how much trouble he really faces. In other words, unlike Arenas they have the sense to let the situation run its course. My understanding is that if Arenas is convicted of federal charges then the Players Association cannot stop the Wizards from voiding Arenas' contract; short of that, there are procedures in place for Arenas and/or the Players Association to seek recourse if the NBA suspension lasts more than 12 games.

As for Crittenton, he has had the good sense to keep his mouth shut but I am sure that if he in fact did any of the things that he reportedly did involving guns then he will receive a multi-game suspension.

Note that Stern did not say that Arenas is not "presently capable" of playing basketball--your words--but rather that Arenas is "not currently fit" to play in the NBA. There is a big difference.

At Wednesday, January 13, 2010 5:27:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I agree that Stern did the right thing in this situation. I also applaud his efforts in recent years to take swift and decisive action to generally clean up on and off-court distractions in the league.

However, your praise of Stern (in comparison to people who run other leagues) overlooks the fact that he is partially to blame for the public relations nightmare that the NBA has seemingly endured over the last 10-15 years.

Since he started out as commissioner, Stern's emphasis has been on marketing the NBA in terms of individuals rather than teams, and personalities rather than the game. This worked fine at first, when his league's superstars who were conscious of presenting a mainstream, clean-cut image. This approach backfired with the inevitable rise of less image-conscious superstars.

It's highly unlikely the the league has had a higher concentration of immature knuckleheads and unsavory characters in recent years than it had before and at the start of Stern's tenure. So why has the personal conduct of players only recently become such an issue? Because of the emphasis on individuals. If a game was marketed as, say, the Lakers vs. Nuggets, people wouldn't care as much about the off-court issues of Kobe or Carmelo. But when it's marketed as Kobe vs. Carmelo, personal issues take center stage.

Finally, I'd have more sympathy for Stern if he took his new iron-fisted approach from his early days. Then we could say it is based on principle and not on a reaction to public relations problems.

At Wednesday, January 13, 2010 11:18:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The NBA has been marketing individuals over teams dating all the way back to the famous billboard that touted the clash of George Mikan (not the Minneapolis Lakers) versus the Knicks. Offhand, I cannot think of a single sport that markets teams/the sport itself more intensely than it markets individual stars; that is simply the way of the world and it is a proven formula that works. Obviously, as a basketball purist I would prefer that there be a greater emphasis on winning and losing but there is a reason that ESPN.com gets a lot more hits than my site does--there is a bigger market for flash than there is for substance.

I have no way of quantifying how many "knuckleheads" are in the NBA now compared to how many "knuckleheads" were in the league 25 years ago but I stand by my favorable comparison of Stern to other commissioners (particularly Bud Selig). Under Stern's leadership, the NBA has been the trendsetter in terms of creating the salary cap, establishing an effective drug policy and creating programs that give back to communities (even if the NBA beats everyone over the head incessantly with "NBA Cares" messages, at least there is some substance to that claim in terms of hours of community service and dollars spent). It is also worth mentioning that it is so common for NBA teams to employ black coaches/executives that when one is hired or fired this is not newsworthy as a racial issue--in stark contrast to the NFL, MLB and college football, where every time a black coach/manager/executive is hired it is newsworthy just because such hirings are still relatively rare.

At Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


arenas was wrong for what he did he has had a great season this year and i hope they don terminate his contract as a ploy to save money it wasnt a ninety million dollar termination he was wrong should be punished leave it at that he will miss rest of season possibly has a felony charge and might have jail time he has suffered enough for a bad judgement he is immature and looked bad for pointing a gun like a 10 year old with teammates

At Friday, January 15, 2010 12:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are borrowing Barkley's line about what Arenas did not being a $90 million mistake but Kenny Smith had the more intelligent take regarding this issue, namely that sometimes one mistake can indeed cost you your freedom and tens of millions of dollars. Look at Plaxico Burress.

The language in most NBA contracts has a moral turpitude clause that enables teams to void the contract if the player engages in certain kinds of conduct. It should be obvious that if the worst case scenario happens and Arenas gets five years in jail then the Wizards will void his contract: why on Earth would they pay him $90 million to be the best prison baller on Earth? However, even if Arenas is lucky enough to avoid jail time, think about the damage that he has done to his team--not just in terms of public relations but in terms of trying to put together a winning product. The Wizards are absolutely within their rights to void his contract and unless Arenas is completely exonerated--which is not going to happen, because he has already admitted to bringing four guns to the arena--the Wizards should void his deal and move forward without him.

The Wizards could have avoided this whole mess by not giving him that max/near max deal in the first place; as I have said all along, he is not a franchise player, not an elite player and not a player who will lead a team past the first round of the playoffs (a feat that he has accomplished just once in his entire career). The Wizards coddled him for too long and treated him like a harmless eccentric instead of realizing that he is in fact a team cancer.


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