It is time that the NBA gets real. In the eyes of the NBA, it is okay to make millions off of its athletes. It is okay to sell its name and its street-ball game to the world. It is okay to blare rap music in the midst of games and sell ads on the court and on the Jumbotron for every second of stopped play. And now it is okay to sell out its players.
Before a complete investigation had been made, before anyone involved with the situation had produced a credible story, and before the Washington Wizards played rival LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in their biggest game of the season to date, Gilbert Arenas was suspended indefinitely from basketball. Later, NBA commissioner David Stern berated Arenas, stating “his ongoing conflict has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game.”
I am not attempting to argue that what Gilbert Arenas did was in any way acceptable. He brought three empty guns into a locker room to use them in a ‘joke’ on a rookie. Once reliable details emerge, he will most likely deserve a serious suspension for his actions, and hopefully a large amount of community service. But what the NBA and Stern did in suspending Arenas indefinitely before the conclusion of the investigation is what the NBA always does: respond to those who give them money. The NBA cowered to the PR craze, to sports media, to Al effing Sharpton and to old money; the type of money which fears gun-owning, reckless, ghetto athletes.
Gilbert Arenas is the star and savior of the Washington Wizards franchise. He is perhaps the most universally liked superstar in the NBA. After every game he throws his jersey into the crowd. He was the first NBA athlete to start a blog, one which became a popular marketing tool for the league. He is also from the streets of Compton. He also went to college for just two years before making the jump to the NBA. His Adidas slogan is ‘Impossible is nothing.’ His dream shoe commercial involves him hitting a game-winning shot, throwing his shoes into the stands, an enormous brawl to ensue for the shoe, and by outrageous circumstances a kid in a wheelchair ends up with the shoe and exclaims, “They said I could never get it. Heh. Impossible is nothing.” Gilbert Arenas is not a one-word human: thug, criminal, jock or idiot wouldn’t do him justice. Well, maybe idiot.
The NBA had a chance at the beginning of this incident to do some good. The majority of its players share Gilbert’s story, plucked off the streets of the ghetto for a life of superstardom playing basketball. According to the Nets’ Devin Harris, as many as 75 percent of players own firearms. The largest issue in this story for those not related to Gilbert Arenas is gun violence itself. The guns Gilbert brought into the locker room were unloaded. Despite the silly and dangerous intention to shock a teammate, Arenas had no intention of shooting anybody. However, the NBA denounces him and deems him unfit to play while other stars with previous histories of gun violence and none of the Gilbert’s extraordinarily benign attributes are played, paid and celebrated.
for the NBA to fine Arenas and suspend him, vilify him as an outlaw and continue to market the product their young ballers produce. They will ask for Gilbert to surrender his dignity to re-enter the league and he will do it. He loves basketball too much not to play, even if it requires him to humble himself. I love the professional game and the players who make up the league, but to me, the designation of Gilbert as a menace does not fit. For that, I am accusing the NBA of selling out.