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Gilbert Arenas situation puts Wizards, NBA over a barrel

How do you like the new year so far?

Reports that Washington teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton had guns in the dressing room -- and may even have pointed them at each other -- set off so many alarms, it’s hard to know where to begin.


FOR THE RECORD:
Gilbert Arenas’ high school: An NBA column on an alleged incident involving handguns in the Washington Wizards’ locker room that appeared in Sunday’s Sports section said the Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas went to Woodland Hills Taft High. Arenas attended Van Nuys Grant. —


We’ll have to forgo common sense since it obviously doesn’t apply here.

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The way to avoid trouble is to avoid trouble, as opposed to (reportedly) carrying guns they produced in an argument about a bet Arenas supposedly hadn’t paid off.

With young stars at dizzying heights of fame and differing levels of maturity, there’s nothing common about sense with former New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress sitting in jail for possessing an illegal firearm that went off by accident in a club, hitting him in the thigh.

It barely matters now whether the New York Post story, the only one reporting the players actually drew their guns, is confirmed or not.

As the most sensational version, it eclipsed all others and is now the one thing everyone has heard.

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The Post quoted Kendrick “Bookie Ball” Long, a friend of Crittenton’s, who Long says told him the story. However, the Post attributed its report that the players drew their guns to “league security sources.”

No one else has confirmed it. Since the “league security sources” place the blame entirely on Arenas, it wouldn’t be hard to believe the Post may have had one source who’s close to Crittenton, not two.

Of course, whether the players drew or not, it was still too close for comfort.

As much as the league would like to bar carrying weapons, as it bars skiing, it would be unconstitutional.

If you haven’t heard, a powerful lobby protects the right to bear arms, and it’s a lot more aggressive than any safeguarding skiers’ rights.

In fact, the NBA is a gun culture. New Jersey’s Devin Harris claims 60% to 75% of players carry guns. Charles Barkley recently said he carries a gun, noting:

“People know we got money, they know our schedule, but I feel safer with it. I’ve carried a gun since 1984. I understand it’s dangerous, I understand if I pull it, I better use it. But I’ve never, ever come close to using it.”

Arenas has already acknowledged putting three pistols in the safe in his Verizon Center locker -- to keep them away from his young children, he said.

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As a violation of NBA rules in a sensational case, that should get him at least a month’s suspension, no matter what else they find.

If this doesn’t match the awful spectacle of the televised Auburn Hills melee, this one could have been tragic, not just devastating.

It’s already a blow to the league, in which Arenas had a place in everyone’s heart, wacky or not.

The NBA featured his freewheeling blog on its website. In a town that doted on the Redskins and barely knew the Wizards existed, the Washington Post’s Mike Wilbon said Arenas had long since become the most popular local athlete.

Nevertheless, to know Arenas is to know how long he has been riding for such a fall.

At the height of his success, and his zaniness, it was easy to see the impact of a turbulent childhood, in which he was abandoned by his mother and raised by his father, whom he didn’t meet until he was almost 3.

Gilbert Sr. once recalled their drive across country after picking his young son up from his grandparents’ home in Florida.

“On our way back, I don’t think he feel asleep,” Gilbert Sr. said.

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“He must have thought at the time I was going to take off on him, so he didn’t go to sleep.”

As a young player at Woodland Hills Taft High, Arenas was overlooked by all the biggies, getting a scholarship offer from Arizona only after another player pulled out.

No matter how high Arenas climbed, which was very high, indeed, it was easy to see no one trusted his success less than he did.

“He’s a very sweet kid, good natured, big heart, very giving when given a chance,” Howard Levine, his coach at Taft, once said, “but he’s got some issues. . . .

“He challenges everybody to, ‘What are you going to do, are you going to leave me?’ ”

Friendly, if loud, betting arguments with teammates and friends were frequent. Action was a way of life for Arenas, who once won a

car in a video game with an old friend from the Valley, and collected.

As for the Wizards, who once changed their name from the Bullets, it looks as if they’ll get another chance to reinvent themselves.

After years of high-scoring frustration under coach Eddie Jordan, they are 10-21 under Flip Saunders, with Arenas struggling after missing almost two seasons because of knee surgery, and in a battle of wills with several teammates, especially Caron Butler.

As far as management was concerned, anything beat starting over, which meant dumping Arenas, Butler and/or Antawn Jamison, all on big contracts.

Management’s preferences just went out the window. Said General Manager Ernie Grunfeld in a telling “no comment” to the New York Post:

“It’s in the hands of authorities. We’re going to get to the bottom of this, if there is a bottom to this.”

If you’re the Cleveland Cavaliers, maybe you can get Jamison for Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ expiring contract.

If you’re the Washington Wizards, those frustrating, high-scoring years just became the good old days.

mark.heisler@latimes.com


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