Judging his body of work, Gilbert Arenas always has been a funny guy. A character.
Even in his darkest hour as a pro, with "Gun Gate" swirling around him, the guy they love to call Agent Zero in Washington was still being the class clown - as attested by the now infamous photo of Arenas pointing trigger-finger at teammates in the huddle before the Wizards game Jan. 5 in Philadelphia. The next day, a clearly annoyed NBA Commissioner David Stern dropped the hammer and put Arenas on an indefinite suspension.
Now word came Thursday that Arenas has been indicted by a federal grand jury on a single count of felony gun possession and would plead guilty under a plea arrangement for his Dec. 21 faux pas. The all-star guard allegedly "did carry, openly and concealed on or about his person, in a place other than his dwelling place, place of business or on other land possessed by him, a pistol, without license issued pursuant to law," according to the language in the indictment.
In plain English, as the story goes, Arenas brought four guns to Verizon Center in Washington and stored them in his locker and used them to try to punk out teammate Javaris Crittenton after Arenas and Crittenton argued over money owed in a card game. Crittenton, too, reportedly was packing his own firearm, and the incident blew up into a national scandal with jester Gilbert stuck in the middle.
Unfortunately for an often eccentric Arenas, getting your comeuppance can be a bummer.
So what to do about Gilbert, scheduled for his initial court appearance Friday morning?
The big question worth probing is whether Arenas merits the tragic-figure label. Now that he has been charged, Arenas will get his day in court with possible jail time, though a Washington Post report Thursday night said his plea deal could spare him the slammer. Everyone knows they don't play around with loose guns in the district where controlling the violent crime rate is a year-to-year challenge.
Remember Lonny Baxter? The former Maryland Terrapins' men's basketball player on the 2002 national championship team was sentenced to two months in jail in August 2006 for firing a gun in the air a few blocks from the White House. The judge was so intent on sending a message on guns that he turned down the prosecutor's recommendation for probation, delaying Baxter joining his European pro league team.
Baxter, like Arenas, had come before the court before in a misdemeanor firearms case and received probation then. Arenas entered a no-contest please for carrying a concealed gun without a license in 2003 in California.
For Arenas, there is then the matter of his $111 million Wizards contract. Will the team try to void the remaining $80 million on the basis of his breaking the standard morality clause in the contract? Well, already the team removed the humongous banner touting Arenas from the side of Verizon Center and stripped references to him in pre-game collateral.
Long-time Wizards owner Abe Pollin died in November, so there would be wrangling behind the scenes over the business and estate. Continuing to pay a player the big bucks, even as beloved as Arenas is in Washington, may not fit in the future plans, and the gun-shenanigans-turned-court case may be an escape clause for the franchise. The Wizards even fined several players who expressed amusement at Arenas' trigger-finger pointing before the Philadelphia game.
Remember when Chris Webber as the Wizards star as a 24-year-old and was pepper-sprayed and arrested on assault, marijuana possession and traffic charges in the Washington area in January 1998? Not long after that, the Wizards jettisoned Webber and his $57 million contract in a deal with the Sacramento Kings for veterans Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe.
With image-clean Wes Unseld always lurking somewhere in the franchise's background, the Wizards historically tend not be tolerant of player transgressions.
Arenas also likely hasn't heard the last from Stern. Gun Gate hit the NBA hard. After the New Jersey Nets announced they would ban card playing on team flights, Mike Greenberg of the "Mike and Mike in the Morning" show on ESPN Radio noted sarcastically that maybe they ought to be first banning handguns. That kind of gallows humor certainly won't endear Stern, and the price could be Arenas' head for the season pending the outcome of the court case.
So Arenas is in a pickle - not to mention the dastardly rumors that have been circulated widely on the Internet about his fiancee taking up with Shaquille O'Neal. As still one of the league's Top 10 players, Arenas has taken hits from all comers. The Rev. Al Sharpton declined to come to his defense. Even NBA bad-boy Stephen Jackson, himself confronted with gun issues in the past, dissed Arenas over the incident.
According to his bio on the JockBio.com Web site, Arenas, coming out of Tampa, FL, and then California as a youngster, didn't live the most idyllic of existences. He went through a stretch of 20 years, for instance, without seeing his own mother, according to the bio. And like today, Arenas then just loved to clown it up through high school and college at Arizona.
You wonder whether that million-dollar 25th birthday party in January 2007 in which P Diddy hosted was some kind of cry out for attention. Incredulous. Who spends $1 million on a birthday party?
Problem now for Arenas is when you clown it up with guns, and, at 28 years old you store them in the locker room where the President of the United States attends basketball games, folks start to become unforgiving.
Once he is sentenced, the collateral damage of the Arenas saga will take shape. The impact on his career and legacy will be clearer.
Yet do we throw Gilbert under the bus without the opportunity for redemption. Despite some observers calling for a lifetime ban from the NBA, this is Gilbert we're talking about. The same jokester whose charitable work with youth in the Washington area is among endearing qualities touted by his advocates.
After he got his wits about himself, stopped the tweets and seemingly understood his actions were no joke, Arenas did start on the road to contrition -- understanding that his "serious lapse in judgment" has gotten the better of him. "Joke or not, I now recognize that what I did was a mistake and was wrong," Arenas said in a statement released earlier by his attorney.
Here's hoping Agent Zero won't be another tragic figure. Here's hoping he makes up for it.
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
Photo: Getty Images