Gun Gate, featuring a now tragic figure in NBA superstar Gilbert Arenas, has stained the proud and steady Washington Wizards NBA franchise.
But despite what Gun Gate may have wrought, look for the Wizards franchise to trudge on as it always has. Still averaging more than 16,000 for home games, the Washington fan base remains strong.
Fallout from Arenas bringing heat into the Wizards locker room will go on until some final resolution. What will be Arenas' sentence after entering a felony guilty plea to illegal gun possession? What other sanctions might Commissioner David Stern impose beyond the current unpaid indefinite suspension? Will the Wizards actually try to terminate his fat contract or trade Arenas?
In the latest development Monday, Wizards guard Javaris Crittenton pled guilty to a single misdemeanor gun count and received a sentence of a year's unsupervised probation along with community service. Crittenton has been a sort of bit player in the melodrama. He and Arenas argued over an Arenas gambling debt to Crittenton incurred on a Dec. 19 team plane ride from Phoenix to Washington, and two days later the Gun Gate caper was born, according to a statement of facts presented in court.
That Arenas would inject the specter of gunplay into an argument with a teammate, and that the co-worker, Crittenton, claims he became afraid for his life, tells much about the sorry season that has befallen the Wizards. It also tells much about Wizards management and wondering where the controls in the workplace were when all of this was occurring. Yes, a basketball team's locker room does constitute a workplace. What if Arenas or Crittenton had gone postal?
Workplace violence and intimidation remain serious issues in this country. As rooted in federal law, employers -- the Wizards are employers in every sense of the definition -- are obligated to provide a "safe and healthful" place of employment that is free of recognized hazards. Maybe OSHA ought to come into the Verizon Center and see what is going on. The Wizards gunplay just doesn't impact Arenas and Crittendon and other players. What about the custodian, locker room attendant, security guard, etc., who also work there?
Some writers, bloggers and commentators have described a franchise in ruins. Clearly, there are problems, but the Wizards are a franchise -- nee Chicago Packers, 1961-62; Chicago Zephyrs, 1962-63; Baltimore Bullets, 1963-73; Capitol Bullets, 1973-74; Washington Bullets, 1974-97 -- that always seems to be able to turn another chapter.
Here are 25 reasons why the Wizards will go on proudly:
Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Antawn Jamison, Wes Unseld, Michael Jordan, Walt Bellamy, Gene Shue, Manute Bol, Jeff Ruland, Chris Webber, Kevin Loughery, Don Ohl, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Caron Butler, Jerry Stackhouse, Kevin Porter, Kwame Brown, Richard Hamilton, Muggsy Bogues, Bobby Dandridge, Gus Johnson, Rod Thorn, Archie Clark, Phil Chenier, Terry Dischinger.
These are all players who have worn the franchise's colors over nearly five decades in business. Great players most of them or significant others for varying reasons. And you can go on naming them from old school to modern. Fifteen more are Bailey Howell, Jeff Malone, Jack Marin, Rasheed Wallace, Gheorghe Muresan, Juwan Howard, Bob Ferry, Wally Jones, Mitch Richmond, Rex Chapman, Rick Mahorn, Bernard King, Tommy Henderson, Michael Adams, Pervis Ellison.
While they have lacked consistent championship success, winning the franchise's only NBA title in 1978 with Unseld, Hayes, Dandridge, et al, the Wizards surely can take their place among the venerable NBA franchises with other old-line clubs still in business today like the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
Gun Gate can't wipe out a near 50-year franchise history. That history transcends a contemporary joker like Gilbert Arenas.
- The franchise reached the NBA Finals four times during the 1970s, beating the Seattle SuperSonics for the championship in 1977-78.
- Through the 1980s, covering the Bullets and Wizards, the franchise won at least 35 games for 22 consecutive years, from 1967-68 through 1988-89.
- At the early part of the 1960s, the NBA was an 8-9 team league that included the Baltimore Bullets and likes of the Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, St. Louis Hawks and Cincinnati Royals and legendary stars like Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bob Pettit, Jerry West and Bill Russell.
- Walt Bellamy, a 6-11 center drafted from Indiana in 1961, was the franchise's first big-time star during the Chicago days who still holds franchise records of 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds per game in his rookie season.
- Unseld, as an undersized 6-7 rookie out of Louisville, averaged 18.2 rebounds a game, winning both the rookie, Rookie of the Year and NBA Most Valuable Player award, joining Chamberlain as the only NBA players ever to accomplish the feat.
As to what will or should happen to Arenas, keep in mind that Washington has been a franchise where blockbuster trades are present throughout its history, whether for salary reasons or other issues.
During the 1965-66 season, Bellamy was dispatched to the Knicks for Jim "Bad News" Barnes, "Jumping" Johnny Green and Johnny Egan. In 1971-72, Monroe was sent to the Knicks for Dave Stallworth, Mike Riordan and cash. In 1995-96, Tom Gugliotta and three future first-round draft picks were shipped to Golden State for 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year Chris Webber, reuniting Webber with Juwan Howard of the "Fab Five Freshman" fame. In 2000-01, there was the deal with the Dallas Mavericks, the Wizards shipping Howard, Obinna Ekezie and Calvin Booth for Hubert Davis, Courtney Alexander, Christian Laettner, Loy Vaught, Etan Thomas and $3 million in cash.
Even before the start of the current season, the Wizards boldly shipped the No. 5 pick in the draft along with Thomas, Oleksiy Pecherov and Darius Songaila to the Timberwolves for Mike Miller and Randy Foye.
So judging by their history, the Wizards may find a way to package up Arenas and start anew once again. They'll do something. About the only player to stay with the franchise from start to finish was Unseld, a clear favorite of late owner Abe Pollin who remained connected to the team payroll today.
In 2002-03, the Wizards was the one franchise that had the foresight to give Michael Jordan a final NBA hurrah at age 40 -- a season in which the six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls played in all 82 games in his 15th pro season, averaging 20 points, 6.1 rebounds 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals a game.
The Wizards will be alright.
- DMA 7-22 Sports is a blog about sports in the Washington-Baltimore market, covering amateurs, colleges and pros. The title DMA 7-22? Means "Designated Market Area," per use of media rating services, signifying Washington is the 7th largest media market in the United States, and Baltimore is the 22nd. You can reach M.V. Greene at DMA722Sports@gmail.com
Photos: Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld, back in the day; Gilbert Arenas, AP