"We have preached to them in writing, and actually in person, on this very subject, and yet they brandished firearms, and that just cannot be tolerated,'' Stern said.
The NBA's action puts a finite number on the indefinite suspension slapped on Arenas Jan. 6, after he mocked the growing publicity over the Dec. 21 confrontation with Crittenton in the team's Verizon Center locker room with his comments and by pantomiming firing guns in a pregame huddle. It also disciplines Crittenton for his role in the incident, for which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unregistered firearm possession in Washington, D.C. Superior Court on Monday.
Arenas still awaits sentencing March 26 on his own guilty plea to a felony gun possession charge -- and the status of his contract with the Wizards, which has four years and more than $80 million left after this season, remains in doubt. Both Stern and Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld denied Wednesday that voiding Arenas' contract had been discussed, contrary to published reports that said that Arenas, in a meeting with Stern earlier Wednesday, had talked to Stern about wanting his contract voided in order to get away from the Wizards and Grunfeld, whom he previously had accused of not supporting him during the controversy.
"That issue hasn't been talked about at all,'' Grunfeld said at a press conference at Verizon Center, where last month Arenas and Crittenton had brought unloaded guns -- three from Arenas and one from Crittenton, according to the proffers of facts presented in court in both players' cases -- by all accounts to continue an argument that had begun earlier over a card game on a team flight.
"Bringing handguns into the workplace, especially in Washington, D.C., but anyplace, is unacceptable,'' Grunfeld said, reiterating why the Wizards stood firmly behind the NBA's decision. "We're very lucky that something worse didn't happen.''
Arenas will not appeal his suspension, his lawyer and the NBA Players Association confirmed Wednesday evening. Kenneth Wainstein, who represented Arenas in his criminal case, issued this statement on his behalf: "Mr. Arenas recognizes that his actions were a serious violation of the law and league rules and were detrimental to the NBA and its reputation. He accepts full responsibility for what he did, and takes no issue with the length of the suspension or the process that led to the Commissioner's decision. It is Mr. Arenas' hope that this punishment will serve an important purpose, as a strong reminder of the responsibility that he and all NBA players have to set the right example with their conduct on and off the court.''
Hunter accompanied both players to their respective meetings with Stern. In his statement, he said: "Gilbert and Javaris are both good men and respected members of our union. They recognize that they exercised poor judgment the morning of December 21 at the Verizon Center, and realize that they must be held accountable for their actions. Neither of them wants to send a mixed message about firearms.''
Crittenton has not decided if he wants to appeal, Hunter added.
Only two players' suspensions not related to drugs longer than the 50 games given Arenas have ever been handed out by the NBA: 73 games, when then-Pacer Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the 2004-05 season for his role in the brawl at the Palace at Auburn Hills; and 68 games, to then-Warrior Latrell Sprewell when he choked coach P.J. Carlesimo at practice in December 1997.
Sprewell's original suspension, for a full calendar year, was reduced to the balance of the season by an arbitrator the following spring; in the same ruling, the Warriors' attempt to void his contract was overturned, and the team ended up trading him to New York the next season. With persistent reports that the Wizards will try to void Arenas' contract based on a violation of the "moral turpitude'' clause, that similarity could end up being critical to Arenas' future in Washington or elsewhere.
Besides denying that the Wizards had discussed voiding the contract, Grunfeld chose his words carefully about trading him or making any other moves with what's left of the roster of the 14-30 team. There are no conditions on Arenas' suspension, Stern said, and he will be fully reinstated when it is over. Arenas, who turned 28 the day he was first suspended, is a three-time All-Star and had averaged 22.6 points and 7.2 assists in his first full season back from multiple left knee operations over the previous three seasons.
"Time will tell. Obviously, he's part of the team,'' Grunfeld said. "We'll have to see how everything shakes out.''
Crittenton, who had been on indefinite paid leave from the team since the original incident came to light, ends up with a 38-game suspension in the last year of his contract. He never suited up this year after offseason left foot surgery.
Stern did say that he was satisfied with how contrite both Crittenton, who had met with him on Tuesday, and Arenas were when they spoke to him in the league's New York office. He said he felt comfortable waiting for both the police and court proceedings to run their course and finishing his own investigation before acting -- although he added that he felt compelled to start the clock early on Arenas' suspension, "to keep Gilbert from doing further damage to himself, and I told him that.''
Still, Stern said, in determining exactly what punishment to hand out, he had to consider the unprecedented nature of their actions, and factor in the knowledge, by everybody in the league, of the NBA handgun policy and the reasons it was collectively bargained in the first place. The intended message, he said, "is that we mean what we say when we say guns are prohibited from our buildings and our team businesses, and if you violate that, you will be dealt with harshly.''
Plus, Stern said, he and Hunter already have plans to talk about strengthening the gun policy further: "It wouldn't surprise me that, wholly apart from the CBA, that Billy Hunter and I sit down (later), because this is not a subject that we disagree ... This is about the health and safety of our players.''
The commissioner added, in a now-customary pushback against the equally-customary public tarring of the entire league's reputation based on the actions of the two players, "I don't want to sound Pollyanna-ish about it, but business is great, especially in this economy.'' More important, he said of the bulk of the NBA's players, "We have more than 400 young men who are doing extraordinary things with their time and money.''
Neither Arenas nor Crittenton had commented publicly by early Wednesday evening.
Likely keeping in mind statements previously issued on behalf of Arenas and Crittenton by their lawyers, Stern's own official statement read in part: "The issue here is not about the legal ownership and possession of guns, either in one's home or elsewhere. It is about possession of guns in the NBA workplace, which will not be tolerated.'' The league's gun policy does not prohibit personal gun ownership under applicable laws.
Stern added that he did not plan to discipline the Wizards organization, and that he believed it had been completely forthcoming and cooperative from the beginning. He also said that his friendship with the team's late owner, Abe Pollin, and the irony of Pollin's antipathy toward gun violence, did not factor into his decision on the two players, although he admitted that it made it "sadder.''
The Wizards' official statement about Arenas and Crittenton's suspension -- undersigned by Grunfeld, Pollin's widow Irene and two of their sons -- was similarly blunt: "Their poor judgment has also violated the trust of our fans and stands in contrast to everything Abe Pollin stood for throughout his life. It is widely known that Mr. Pollin took the extraordinary step of changing the team name from 'Bullets' to 'Wizards' in 1997 precisely to express his abhorrence of gun violence in our community. We hope that this negative situation can produce something positive by serving as a reminder that gun violence is a serious issue.''