Fast forward to Jackson's little incident in the parking lot of Club Rio. While it looked bad for the NBA to have players discharging firearms in public places, Stern had to tread lightly. If he, ahem, jumped the gun and went hard at Jackson to match the outcry, he could end up looking irrational, or even facing problems with the Players Union, if S-Jax was to be found innocent or plead to a minor offense. When the sin is committed away from NBA property, it can't be interpreted as "workplace"; Stern then has to defer to the law and respond to its conclusions. The CBA matches specific levels of penalty with specific convictions. That's why Delonte West is still out running the streets.
Today, Gilbert Arenas was informed that he'll be away from the game for the remainder of the season. Arenas's situation involved a serious violation of both the law and NBA workplace regulations. Therefore, in theory Stern could have taken action against Arenas as soon as the facts were known, and with little or not concern for how the courts ruled. All of which only makes the way things unfolded more perplexing.
Maybe the Commissioner was waiting to see if the story got even worse, as it eventually did with Javaris Crittenton's alleged chambered round. Except that didn't change Gil's offense, which for the NBA's purposes stayed at "firearms in the locker room." Are we to believe that Stern kept Arenas on the court just in case he'd been the one toting a loaded pistol?
The indefinite suspension came when Arenas refused to behave himself or show necessary seriousness. The consensus has long been that Stern wanted Arenas to shut his mouth (and his Twitter-hole) and stop playing FINGER GUNZ; this move served as a de facto gag order. After all, Arenas was bound to be lose some games, so why not start eating into them now? Stern called him "unfit to play", which one would assume was also his attitude about Artest after The Brawl. Except this reference was to Arenas's lack of remorse, not his actual offense (Artest didn't do himself any favors by promoting his new album when he should've been apologizing, but his ditch was already waiting). Stern exercised his "workplace offense" prerogative not when Arenas brought a gun to the Verizon Center, but when he failed, or refused, to play the public relations game.
Here's where we pause and note that when Stern takes things personally, he lashes out. He had cut Arenas some slack and had it thrown back in his face. Yet if you retrace the logic of Stern's actions, it would appear he chose to suspend Arenas for the wrong reasons. Had he followed through early, the "workplace" rationale would be intact. Instead Arenas went away because he embarrassed the league and humiliated Stern. This goes against all precedent, and makes you wonder if now all post-arrest behavior can be dealt with thus.
That's the dystopic read on what happened. Another is that Arenas was a special case, or at least a mistake Stern won't make again.
However, then you get to the matter of today's suspension, coming on the heels of Arenas's plea deal. Why did it take Stern so long? Once Stern had decided to suspend Arenas, he could more or less do whatever he wanted. If Arenas had been found not guilty, Stern still would have been within his rights to hold Arenas out till next season. At the same time, can we really say that the severity of the suspension was in any way a function of what crime Arenas was found guilty of? Based on today's news, probably not. Unless you believe that Stern might have had an even harsher punishment up his sleeve if Arenas hadn't plead out.
What's at issue here is, in effect, a separation of church and state. Either Stern operates with impunity, or he does so in a way that lines up with the verdict of the courts. For the former to take place, there must be violation of that CBA that allows the league broad power of discretion. The latter occurs when the punishment is a function of an external verdict.
In the Arenas mess, we've seen the two become hopelessly muddled, with Stern both slacking off and getting more aggressive than ever when it comes to his right to wield the power. And, to top it all of, a final number from Stern that seems as much about erasing his earlier equivocation as sending a message to Arenas and his peers.