Gilbert Arenas an affront to late owner's legacy

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas appears during a

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas appears during a game against the Miami Heat. (November 4, 2009) (Credit: MCT)

John Jeansonne

Newsday columnist John Jeansonne. John Jeansonne

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since

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Gilbert Arenas #0 of the Washington Wizards gestures Gilbert Arenas

Time for another fan vote in our nation's capital. Twelve years ago, a plebiscite was necessary because NBA owner Abe Pollin, dismayed over his team nickname's association with gun violence, took "Bullets" out of the league. (The citizenry chose "Wizards" instead.) Now, with Pollin six weeks dead, we appear in need of the next step - getting actual weapons away from the team's eccentric all-star guard, Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas' admission of keeping four handguns in his locker at the Wizards' home arena - a building, personally financed by Pollin, that led to the restoration of a formerly run-down neighborhood near the White House - is enough to profane Pollin's legacy of social consciousness. Worse is Arenas' attempt to disarm critics by continuing to make light of the situation.

He has insisted that reports of drawing a gun on teammate Javaris Crittenton in the locker room last week were misinterpreting his intention to "play a joke," and sarcastically wrote on Twitter, "I wake up this morning and seen I was the new JOHN WAYNE." Then, in a pre-game huddle before Tuesday night's game in Philadelphia, Arenas posed with both hands cocked like pistols (thumbs up, index fingers pointing).

He and Crittenton reportedly had argued over a gambling debt and, while Arenas has said that his guns were not loaded and only stored at the arena to keep them away from his small children, he faces possible jail time as well as the indefinite suspension issued by the NBA on Wednesday.

For his behavior to aim a wrecking ball at the six-year, $111-million contract awarded him by Pollin before the 2008-09 seasons is one thing; the team could void that deal based on his failing to "conform his personal conduct to standards of good citizenship, good moral character and good sportsmanship."

But Arenas is further putting a dent in all that Pollin stood for. A builder by trade, Pollin was known for his wide-ranging philanthropy, funding medical research, aiding the poor and helping feed children in developing nations through UNICEF. In 1995, when his personal friend Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, was assassinated, Pollin returned from the funeral intent of changing the team name from Washington Bullets. He had "stood on the spot" where Rabin was killed, he said at the time. "Bullets connote killing, violence, death. Our slogan used to be, 'Faster than a speeding bullet.' That is no longer appropriate."

Upon his death in November, Pollin was called the NBA family's "most revered member" by NBA commissioner David Stern. "About 50 years from now," Pollin had said in 2001 of the Wizards' new arena, "people will ask, 'Who built that building?' 'Some guy named Smith,' they'll say. Because no one remembers. For feeding hungry children, yes. I'd like to be remembered. For taking care of the homeless, I'd like to be remembered."

It could be argued that paying a 28-year-old man without a college degree $111 million to play a boy's game is a form of philanthropy as well. Arenas left the University of Arizona after his sophomore season, packing obvious basketball skill and a label of unpredictability; he has called himself a "goofball."

He was busted, while a member of the Golden State Warriors in 2003, for driving without a license with an unlicensed gun in the car. While his latest violation of weapons laws was drawing laughs via David Letterman's Top Ten list - "Coach didn't specify what kind of pre-game shoot-around it was" and "My exploding underpants weren't working" - it was a sober reminder of frightening estimates that 75 to 100 percent of NBA players own guns, and that there was nothing funny about Giants receiver Plaxico Burress getting himself thrown into the slammer for illegal gun possession last year.

In all seriousness Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, issued a statement declaring that, if Arenas indeed had brought firearms to the Verizon Center arena, "he should be taken from the basketball court to a courtroom. If found guilty, he should be punished to the full extent of the law, including jail time if appropriate."

The Pollin family, also in a statement, said, "The fact that guns were brought to the Verizon Center is dangerous and disappointing and showed extremely poor judgment."

It also showed an appalling lack of respect for the late Abe Pollin. Now that there are no more Bullets in the league, only guns are inappropriate.