- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ever since he first acknowledged keeping guns in his locker, NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas has publicly employed the “goof ball” defense, claiming he wasn’t aware of the law, meant no harm and never takes anything seriously.

The NBA and the Washington Wizards had a far more serious response. Now it’s time to see how it plays before a judge.

Arenas is to appear in court Friday afternoon to answer a felony charge of carrying a pistol without a license, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The charge was filed Thursday in D.C. Superior Court in an “information,” a document that indicates Arenas has reached a plea deal with prosecutors.

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.

The charge was made 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.

Arenas’ lawyer, Crittenton’s lawyer and the NBA had no comment on the criminal charge. 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 a jail sentence, 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.”

One day after Arenas pantomimed shooting teammates in a pregame huddle before a game at Philadelphia, Stern levied the indefinite suspension by declaring Arenas “not currently fit to take the court” and said the 28-year-old player’s conduct will “ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse.”

In addition, the Wizards could attempt to invoke the morals clause found in standard NBA contracts and void the remainder of the six-year, $111 million deal Arenas signed in summer 2008. The players’ union would almost certainly contest such a move.

“We will continue to lend our full support to Gilbert and will assist him in every way possible to see this matter through,” union executive director Billy Hunter said.

Arenas has played in only 34 games since signing the contract because of a knee injury and the guns-related suspension. He was averaging 22.6 points and 7.2 assists this season for the Wizards, who are 12-25 and in last place in the NBA’s Southeast Division. The team has removed nearly all traces of the once-marketable “Agent Zero” from the Verizon Center, including Arenas merchandise with the jersey No. 0 and a huge banner with his photo.

The case has proved a major distraction for a troubled team. At least seven Wizards players and coach Flip Saunders have appeared before a grand jury or been questioned by authorities, leaving the team without enough players to hold a regular practice on some days. Arenas has been told to stay away from team functions during his suspension, and Crittenton, who has not played this season because of a foot injury, has been excused by the team while the legal process plays out.

Prosecutors charged Arenas directly, however, and the grand jury investigation hasn’t led to an indictment. And although Arenas acknowledged bringing four guns to the locker room, he faces only the single gun charge. Prosecutors have not said what sentence they would recommend to the judge.

“We are aware of the charge filed against Gilbert Arenas today and will continue to follow the ongoing legal process very carefully,” the Wizards said in a statement. “We will also continue to cooperate fully with the proper authorities and the NBA.”

Arenas has a prior gun conviction. He was found guilty of possessing an unregistered firearm during a traffic stop in 2003 in San Francisco.

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