“Gilbert Arenas has another thing coming,” Ben Ross was saying outside Verizon Center on Thursday morning.
“He’s not above the law,” Earl Bell said.
“He thinks he is,” Ross said. “Gilbert thinks it’s a . . . joke.”
“He needs to be prosecuted,” Bell said. “See if he laughs then.”
“Yeah, and fire your damn fingers again like they’re guns, Gilbert,” Ross said.
“What an idiot,” Bell said. “I hope they kick Arenas out of the league.”
The beleaguered Washington Wizards guard was suspended indefinitely without pay Wednesday by National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern over a gun incident in a Verizon Center locker room last month and Arenas’s behavior since — including an episode Tuesday in Philadelphia, where he pretended to shoot his teammates with his hands during a pregame huddle. “He is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game,” Stern said in a strongly worded statement that promised “a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse.”
Arenas apologized in a statement of his own. But it hardly dampened the public outrage over the behavior of the star athlete, who brought four handguns to the arena and displayed them in the locker room in the midst of a gambling dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton.
“I mean, how stupid is this guy?” Chris Johnson said Thursday, while standing on Abe Pollin Way, the one-block stretch of F Street NW named for the late Wizards owner who dropped the team’s old name, the Bullets, because of violent crime rates in Washington and the assassination of his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“How many millions is he making?” Johnson said.
Arenas signed a six-year, $111 million contract extension with the Wizards in 2008.
“Pay somebody to store your guns, man,” Johnson said. “You can afford it. And don’t play around with them. That’s nothing to joke about, man. That’s reckless. And then he goes out there, with the situation, and makes fun of it on the court, with the fake guns? Stupid, stupid, stupid.”
Arenas was interviewed Monday by local detectives and federal prosecutors about his weapons stockpile and the locker room incident, which he has maintained was a prank. On Tuesday, a D.C. Superior Court grand jury began reviewing the case.
Arenas could face up to 20 years in prison on felony charges of carrying handguns without a license. But that didn’t stop the mercurial player from joking about his plight in interviews, on his Twitter stream and on the court. (The professionals got in on the act, too, with David Letterman even reading a list of top 10 excuses, including: “Coach didn’t specify what kind of pregame shoot-around it was.”)
“Gil needs to be serious,” said Tommie Williams, who was on his way to a pretrial drug test at D.C. Superior Court. (“Coke charge,” he shrugged.) “Guns — that’s a serious offense in D.C. He’s gonna find out. Honestly, he know better.”
Upstairs at the courthouse, Dontea Robinson was waiting for a friend, and wondering why people are so worked up about the Arenas case.
“There’s people out there doing worse things than that,” he said. “It was a practical joke. He never meant to harm nobody. They should take it light on Gil.”
At City Sports, just up the block from Verizon Center, cashier Naja Kelly was shaking her head, not far from a rack of Gilbert Arenas jerseys ($75 each — and no buyers lately, she noted). At the back of the store, the player’s signature Adidas shoes were languishing, too, and had been marked down, with some styles sitting on the clearance table (two pair, $50).
“It’s stupid, what he did,” she said. “Let me boost my image and go the thug route. But everybody knows you’re not a thug.” She wondered why Arenas hadn’t been charged yet. “I’m a student at Howard, and we’ve had incidents where people have had handguns, and they’ve been detained right away.” She wondered, too, whether he’d receive anything more than a prosecutorial slap on the wrist. “He won’t go to jail. But I’m sure he’ll be doing gun safety ads and talking to kids about why guns are bad. But is he really going to change his mentality? They never do.”
In an interview with the New York Daily News this week, Rev. Al Sharpton inserted himself into the Arenas story — and the broader issue of lawlessness and criminal behavior in the NBA and NFL — by asking why black leaders hadn’t spoken out about the “culture of violence being perpetuated in professional sports.” Sharpton also wrote an op-ed for Tthe Post about athletes and guns.
On Thursday, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty declined to comment on Arenas’s fate, saying, “That’s a decision up to the people he works for.”
Councilman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) was far more pointed. “It was bad enough what he did with the gun, but it was absolutely beyond any good judgment to point his fingers at his teammates and use them as a gun,” Evans said. “The bad judgment exercised by him at that point in time is just unbelievable. I think he should have been suspended, and frankly he could find himself out of the NBA for life. It harms our city, and it’s a terrible role model for our youth. So Gilbert’s got to get his act together.”
At the National Museum of Crime and Punishment’s Cop Shop, a block away from Verizon Center, Joe Greene was hoping Arenas would be run out of town.
“If he actually had those guns and pulled on a teammate? Cut him, void his contract and never let him back in the NBA,” said Greene, a long-suffering Wizards fan, which is about the only kind of Wizards fan there is anymore.
Janine Vaccarello, the cop museum’s chief operating officer, noted that the museum is prohibited by District law from displaying most real guns, unless they’ve been dismantled or are antiques or replicas. “We have to follow D.C. gun laws, so I don’t see why a celebrity wouldn’t,” she said. She wondered what the Wizards might do with their leading scorer. “If one of my employees did what he did, they would be terminated. Gone. It’s against the law. Even if it’s not, no employer is going to be tolerant of an employee bringing weapons to work.”
The Wizards issued a statement on Wednesday endorsing Stern’s suspension and adding: “Under Abe Pollin’s leadership, our organization never tolerated such behavior, and we have no intention of ever doing so.”
That day, outside the courthouse, two construction workers were arguing about Arenas.
“I think he was trying to do the right thing and there was no criminal intent,” Oscar Jenkins said.
“What he did is inexcusable,” Josef Ajamu said.
“I don’t feel he should be punished for what he did,” Jenkins said. “Somebody should say: You made a bad choice. In the future, try to make better choices.”
“He’s a dumbo,” Ajamu said.