NBA needs to clean up its act — gun play isn't funny
Suspension of Wizards star Gilbert Arenas was the right call for a league that is struggling to maintain fans.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Back in the late 1970s, when I was covering the Portland Trail Blazers, one of the best parts of the job was riding in the back of the buses with the players and listening to their basketball war stories.
Several of the Blazers were refugees from the old American Basketball Association — Maurice Lucas, Dave Twardzik, Tom Owens and broadcaster Steve Jones.
The ABA was an amazing collection of great talent and bad tempers, and the stories about the fights and feuds in that league are legendary.
One story involved a former Sonic, John Brisker, who was playing for Pittsburgh in the ABA. Brisker was a very intelligent man with a highly flammable temper. He also had an affinity for hand guns.
At practice one day, so the story went, Brisker was arguing with a teammate and generally disrupting coach Jack McMahon's practice. Finally McMahon tossed Brisker from practice and Brisker stormed off the floor.
Moments later, however, Brisker returned, this time carrying a gun. While the players looked on in wide-eyed amazement, McMahon calmly declared, "Practice is over."
When that story was told at the back of the Trail Blazers' bus, it always drew loud laughter.
It doesn't sound so funny anymore.
A recent high-stakes card game on the Washington Wizards' airplane has turned into another ugly incident for the NBA.
The card game reportedly ended in a dispute between Wizards star Gilbert Arenas and reserve Javaris Crittenton.
It devolved into Arenas, who has a history with gun violations, bringing several guns into the Wizards' locker room and displaying them in what he now is saying was a bad joke.
On Wednesday, commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas indefinitely.
It seems, even after issuing his first apology, Arenas didn't get the seriousness of his offense. Before Tuesday's game with Philadelphia, he stood in the center of the Wizards' pregame circle, cocked his thumbs and play-acted as if he were shooting his teammates.
The wire photo of his teammates laughing along with Arenas was even more offensive than the original act. You have to wonder how many other NBA players thought Arenas was funny.
The NBA: Where Handgun Happiness Happens.
I believe incidents like this are major reasons Seattle no longer has an NBA team. Stephen Jackson discharged a gun outside a strip club. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant was involved in a highly publicized rape case. And referee Tim Donaghy was jailed on felony gambling-related charges.
Casual fans got turned off by the behavior. Lawmakers grew tired of players finding their way onto police blotters. Voters rebelled against what they believed were millionaire children who disrespected the law.
Guys like Arenas, Jackson and Donaghy are secondary villains in the Sonics' soap opera. They helped grow the misperception that the league is out of control.
But the Arenas incident and his teammates' total disregard for its seriousness is another ugly chapter for a league that is playing too many of its games in half-empty arenas and struggling mightily to wake up the echoes of its past.
It pains me because I still love the NBA game. And I miss the Sonics like I'd miss my favorite uncle.
Stern was right to suspend Arenas. I think much of the NBA is hoping that the investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the District of Columbia police will lead to Arenas' arrest, which could allow the league to void the rest of the guard's $111 million contract.
But Stern has to become more strident in dealing with the players. Running a few transparent "NBA Cares" commercials during televised games isn't cutting it with the fans.
Gun play isn't funny. Gun ownership is a responsibility that too often is offered to the irresponsible.
If players feel so unsafe they believe they need to own guns, then the league should reassess its security policy. Every player, even those who don't own guns, should be made to enroll in a gun safety class.
And players should be made to disclose to the league every registered gun they own.
As angry as I am with the league, I want it to live and thrive. I want it to return, sooner rather than later, to Seattle. And I want the knuckleheads systematically removed.
The game is too good to allow guys like Gilbert Arenas and a misguided gaggle of Wizards to spoil it.
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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