The reason Gilbert Arenas had to leave now, the reason he has gone from frivolous to dangerous, is that he doesn't seem to grasp the concept of consequences.
When you meld that trait with a known penchant for harboring guns, you have a threat. That's what Gilbert has to be considered now. At the very least, he's a threat to this image-conscious league's perception in the public eye. At the worst well, Jayson Williams has been on my mind this week, and not because he was arrested on a DUI charge Tuesday. Long before Arenas and his quirky Agent Zero persona came along, Williams was the reigning prankster in the NBA. Williams told jokes at the expense of Yinka Dare and Benoit Benjamin and was one of the best quotes in the NBA. Then in 2002, after he had retired, he was accused of killing a chauffeur while playing around with a shotgun in his house (manslaughter charges resulted in a mistrial and an acquittal).
Maybe Arenas is the type who would pull the trigger only under the most extreme circumstances, if he or his family members were in danger. But I don't give him the benefit of the doubt on any judgment calls now, not when he could be so reckless and put the remaining $80 million of his contract in jeopardy.
There's a history of money squabbles prompting player-to-player hostility in the NBA, with perpetrators from Charles Oakley to Kobe Bryant. And there have even been tales of players pulling guns on teammates before, including Vernon Maxwell getting his gat after an argument with Houston Rockets teammate Carl Herrera. But Arenas crossed a line when he tried to end his card-game argument with Javaris Crittenton with a display of guns in the locker room, a blatant violation of David Stern's ban on firearms on NBA property.
Arenas knew the rules. He knew the potential for trouble with unlicensed weapons after he was suspended for a game in 2004 for a previous failure to properly register a weapon.
Arenas knew the stakes. And if he doesn't care about the money, if he doesn't care about upholding the league's image, if he doesn't respect the legal and career risks he faces, exactly what does he hold sacred? His right to have fun?
We always liked Arenas specifically because he was himself. He was a noncomformist. He was impulsive. My favorite Gilbert moment was at the 2007 All-Star Game, when he broke from a timeout huddle, ran down the court and bounded off the trampoline the mascots and acrobatic teams use to dunk.
In retrospect, I should have been shocked at the risky behavior for a guy making $11 million a year at the time. The media and fans who fell into the spell of Gilbertology, who raved about his unfiltered blog and laughed at his kooky quotes, bear some responsibility for creating his mindset, too. We encouraged this behavior. And when he found himself cast as a true villain for the first time in his career, he reverted to the character that made him a cult hero.
Only this wasn't the time. Arenas snapped the one lenient bone in Stern's body -- the commissioner's belief that players are entitled to the full legal process before he drops his own hammer -- by openly mocking the situation. People wondered why the Wizards didn't suspend Arenas themselves for bringing guns into their locker room. Stern had told them, "I got this." He intended to let the local and federal investigations play out -- until Arenas forced his hand.
Arenas mocked the whole situation with his fake-pistol move in the pregame huddle Tuesday night in Philadelphia. As I blogged on TrueHoop, Stern let it be known during the 2007 playoffs that he didn't appreciate it when the Golden State Warriors made fun of Stephen Jackson's 2006 shooting arrest in their pregame warm-ups, so Gilbert apparently was acting in ignorance of history as well as good taste.
Gilbert's judgment is so off he couldn't even limit his public utterances to apologies and gratitude for every second he's allowed to step onto an NBA court. As a result, he's much more likely to be seen in a court of law first, as this indefinite suspension is expected to last at least as long as the legal proceedings against him continue.
Some people don't understand what the big deal is when no shots were fired. They're missing the point. As one team executive said without any pun intended, Arenas shot himself in the foot. It was bad judgment, not bad aim.
There could be wide-ranging, long-term effects, from the dispersal of Wizards players around the league in the breakup of this team via trade to new language that makes it easier to void contracts in the next collective bargaining agreement.
For now we should take a moment to be thankful that, for all Arenas' reckless behavior, his worst damage was to himself.