Gilbert Arenas, above, "is not currently fit to take the court in an… (Matt Slocum/associated…)
National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern suspended Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas indefinitely without pay Wednesday, saying a gun incident in the Wizards' locker room last month and Arenas's behavior since had led him to conclude "that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game."
Stern's action, announced in a scathing statement issued from his office in New York, cast into doubt the future career of one of Washington's most colorful athletes who once delighted fans with his all-star play but has been seeking to regain his form this year after missing most of the past two seasons with a knee injury.
It also came as new details emerged about the locker-room confrontation between Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, a Wizards teammate, on Dec. 21 that suggest a potentially far more volatile incident than was originally reported by Arenas to team officials.
The two players had been arguing during a card game on the Wizards' flight back from Phoenix Dec. 19, and the dispute spilled into the team locker room at Verizon Center before practice two days later. Arenas has acknowledged bringing his handguns to the arena and displaying them in the locker room that morning in what he maintained was a playful gesture aimed at his teammate.
According to two first-hand accounts of the confrontation, Crittenton responded to Arenas's action -- which included laying the four unloaded weapons in Crittenton's cubicle with a note that read, "Pick One" -- by brandishing his own firearm, loading the gun and chambering a round.
Two of the five people in the room that morning, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Arenas had originally not disclosed Crittenton's action to protect the little-used guard from prosecution and had told Crittenton he would assume full responsibility for the actions of both players that day.
In a two-hour interview with police and federal prosecutors Monday, Arenas, in his version of the story, spoke of Crittenton's loaded gun, a person with knowledge of Arenas's testimony said.
Mark Bartlestein, Crittenton's agent, declined to comment. Crittenton, in a series of text messages responding to a request for comment, said the account provided by the witnesses was "false."
"I have done nothing wrong. Let the investigation process take its course and you will see that," he said. "My name is dying in this situation."
Crittenton has been injured all season and has yet to play in a game. Arenas signed a six-year, $111 million contract in July 2008, $80 million of which remains after this season.
Neither the NBA nor the Wizards would comment Wednesday on the depth of Crittenton's involvement. But officials from both the team and the league, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had heard the version of the story told by people who witnessed the altercation.
"We still don't know all the details yet," a senior Wizards official said. "That's just one version of the story we heard."
A source familiar with Monday's meeting between Arenas and police and prosecutors said that prosecutors agreed to only use Arenas's statements as part of their investigation, not as direct evidence to be presented to the grand jury or to be used during a trial or hearing. Also, Arenas told prosecutors Monday that he would be willing to meet with them again or appear before a grand jury in the coming days if they requested.
Prosecutors began presenting evidence to a D.C. Superior Court grand jury in the case Tuesday. The case is still being investigated by the police and the league, which has yet to interview all players involved. D.C. police declined to comment.
Arenas, reached by telephone in his Cleveland hotel room, where he watched the Wizards lose to the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, said he "respected" Stern's decision to suspend him.
"He is the same man who put me on my second all-star team after I got snubbed by the coaches," Arenas added. "That decision came down for me. He made a tougher decision today that went against me. And I have to accept it."
In his statement, Stern held out the prospect of a prolonged suspension for Arenas, who turned 28 Wednesday.
"The possession of firearms by an NBA player in an NBA arena is a matter of the utmost concern to us," Stern said. "Although it is clear that the actions of Mr. Arenas will ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse, his ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game."
Stern, who originally had said through the league that he would wait until the police investigation concluded before taking action, decided to act after Arenas playfully formed his hands into pistols and pretended he was shooting his teammates as the Wizards huddled courtside before their game against the 76ers in Philadelphia on Tuesday night.