by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
While many of us will be anxiously awaiting Friday’s NCAA Tournament games, Gilbert Arenas will appear before the Honorable Robert E. Morin in a DC courtroom for a sentencing hearing stemming from his January guilty plea to one felony count of carrying a pistol without a license. He is expected to be sentenced to six months in jail with three months suspended, followed by three years of probation and 300 hours of community service—the punishment recommended by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh in the government’s aid to sentencing memo. Judge Morin has the option to subject Arenas to probation and community service or the maximum penalty available under the plea, which is five years, but he is expected to follow the recommendation of the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Once Arenas receives his sentence, the Washington Wizards may attempt to void his contract based upon his guilty plea to a felony that will require jail time. Arenas has four years and $80 million remaining on an unmovable contract no other team in the League will be willing to take on. I find it hard to believe the Wizards will ever allow him to play for their organization again. And with a guaranteed contract in hand, accepting a buyout less than $80 million would be an unwise business move for Gil. With no other options available, the Wizards could attempt to void his deal under the moral turpitude clause. If that occurs, the NBA Players Union will surely object and the matter would have to be settled by an independent arbitrator.
It would set the stage for an incredible fight for Arenas’ future riches. I’m not an attorney, but I disagree with the numerous reports speculating that the Wizards will have no chance at voiding the deal. Many of these articles argue that past void attempts in cases involving Vin Baker and Latrell Sprewell were unsuccessful. The Celtics attempted to void Baker’s deal because he was suspended by the League for 10 games in violation of the League mandated alcohol program he had been placed in. A confidential financial settlement between both parties was reached before the arbitration ran its course. Sprewell’s attack of coach PJ Carlisemo involved no criminal charges. After the Warriors attempted to void the remaining years left on his deal, Sprewell had the decision reversed in an arbitration decision, his contract reinstated and his one-year suspension reduced by five months.
Gilbert’s case is completely different and the Wizards will have more leverage to argue their case. Gil has admitted to threatening a teammate on the team plane, telling Javaris Crittenton he was going to “shoot him in the face.” In his signed statement, Crittenton said he took the threat seriously. While Gilbert maintains he was joking, he followed up the threat by bringing firearms into DC, a clear violation of the law, and then into the locker room, a violation of NBA rules. The government admits it doesn’t believe Gilbert would have actually shot Crittenton in the face, but they also don’t believe the incident was merely a joke or prank gone wrong. Whether he was joking or not, the threat and his actions that followed could be determined to be premeditated or calculated and resulted in a felony conviction. The Wizards would likely argue that threatening a teammate with a firearm, joking or not, is the act of moral turpitude—that it’s never OK to joke around or play pranks with guns in our society.
Gil’s only hope to stay in DC rests in the recent news that the Polin family has agreed in principle to sell the team to minority partner Ted Leonsis. Maybe Gilbert can persuade the new ownership group to give him another chance.
Kavanaugh’s memo is extremely well written and explains the government’s reasoning behind their sentencing request. In addition to the fact that he broke the law by bringing guns into the District of Columbia, the government was equally upset with Gil’s actions after the incident. They believe he was not forthcoming, never fully accepted responsibility for the totality of his actions and showed no genuine remorse.
United States V. Gilbert Arenas paints Gil as a deceptive criminal who should feel fortunate his sentence recommendation isn’t more severe. While he is definitely guilty of breaking the law, we know this is not the true Gil. As his attorney Kenneth Wainstein acknowledges in the defense memo in aid of sentencing, Gilbert is “a truly good-hearted man.” Wainstein argues that Arenas was simply playing a joke on a teammate and never intended to harm anyone. He also describes Gilbert’s troubled childhood and his numerous philanthropic acts throughout the country. The exhibit portion of the memo features 32 letters written on Gilbert’s behalf. The only Wizard officials to offer letters were Community Relations Director Sashia Jones and Equipment Manager Robert Suller.
There are no character references from anyone in the Polin family or GM Ernie Grunfeld—an indication that a void attempt is looming. If management wanted to keep Arenas in DC, wouldn’t someone have provided a letter asking the judge for leniency, hoping their star player receive probation and community service rather than time behind bars?
Many of the letters submitted are extremely powerful. I believe it’s important to share some of them here:
Alana Beard of the Washington Mystics described how as a professional athlete, she has been fortunate to have a big support structure in place. “Gilbert’s difficult childhood and upbringing have been well documented. While filled with plenty of love from his father, it was also riddled with plenty of uncertainty including where he would find his next meal and rest his head.”
Paisley Benaza, a woman who has helped manage Gilbert’s career since he parted with agent Dan Fegan in 2007, describes Gilbert’s unique generosity and shared a story about Gil’s fight back from is knee injury. “He could have sat back because he knew his contract was guaranteed against injury, but he pushed himself to perform to the level of talent he knew he had. There were many conversations that we had in confidence when he doubted himself and he admitted that public criticism affected him, but it motivated him to work harder to comeback to basketball as a better performer.”
Dustin Canalin, founder of Undrcrwn, wrote about Gilbert believing in his creative talent after working with him on a project for adidas. “After the project I was able to build a personal relationship with Gilbert. He believed in my talents and character to not only invest in me financially, but personally invest in me as well. He is always trying to help others achieve their dreams and goals.”
Susan Crooks, a neighbor of Gilbert’s, described approaching him with her son, asking if he could help out with a silent auction for their little league. Crooks was taken by Gilbert’s warm embrace. He went on to sign a basketball for Crooks and ran home to fetch a pair of signed sneakers and a signed photo. “We try to teach children to shake hands when you first meet someone and to welcome them warmly. Mr. Arenas modeled that example so beautifully for my son. We try to teach our children to give and to help, and again, Mr. Arenas modeled that beautifully for my son.”
Stacey Oxner Gail, whose husband was murdered in front of their 11-year-old son in 2005, explained the impact Gil has had on her two sons, introduced to him through the detective that worked the case. “Gilbert has had a major impact on my family’s grieving process through acts of emotional support and thoughtfulness. Always greeting us with a smile and being able to interact with my two sons during their pre-teen and teenage years without having their dad. This is a time where they really need male influences and Gilbert has been someone they look up to and enjoy being around. Gilbert’s kind heart to spend time with my sons has been a major part of them healing.”
Wizards Sr. Community Relations Director Sashia Jones wrote about Gil’s commitment to giving back. “I have had what many would call the pleasure of working with a host of high profile NBA athletes, I can honestly say that very few of them have given or give themselves as much as Gilbert has. Gilbert will probably never accumulate the accolades that they have achieved in the game of basketball, but he surely will surpass them in his willingness to give, his time and self.”
Jared Levi, a junior at the University of Illinois in Chicago, handed Gil an envelope containing a letter and 200 photos after a Wizards game in Chicago in 2007. In the letter, Levi explained to Arenas how he was collecting autographs of famous athletes and selling them in order to put himself through college. “He took the envelope that had the photos and letter in it, and said come back tomorrow before the bus leaves. The next morning, we returned excited as can be, and I went into the lobby. Gilbert greeted me and said, ‘here you go kid.’ I was in shock when I opened the envelopes and each of the over 200 photos autographed. Gil even read the instructions signing in the correct spot with the correct type of pen.”
Andre Mcallister lost his mother and family in a house fire in 2004—he was the only one to make it out alive. Two days after the fire, he met Gilbert. He recalled Gil taking him on a shopping spree with his cousin, followed by a visit to his grandmother’s home. “Once my grandmother saw how much he did for us, she broke down in tears and I will never forget what Gilbert said, he smiled and said ‘it’s fine, I’m just here to help out.’
ESPN Los Angeles writer Dave McMenamin, a friend of Gilbert’s who once worked with him on his blog for NBA.com, wrote a letter on his behalf that resonated with me. “He is not a criminal. He may have broken the law, but this isn’t a person that society should be protected from by putting behind bars. If anything, society needs more good souls like Gilbert.”
Robert Suller, Equipment Manager for the Wizards, described Gilbert’s positive impact on his family. Suller’s five-year-old daughter Jenna has Angelman Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that requires her to have 24-hour care. In 2007, Gilbert donated his entire Playoff bonus check to Suller so he could purchase a special mini van that helped accommodate the special needs of his daughter. “Please consider how much Gilbert Arenas has meant to my family’s life and know that there are so many more out there that he has touched in a positive way.”
If Gilbert didn’t take the time to give back to these individuals, there’s a good chance nobody else would have. He should be admired for that. Gilbert has made a terrible mistake and should be punished for what he has done, but jail time? He has already paid a heavy price, losing $7 million in salary as result of his NBA suspension as well as a lucrative contract with adidas that reportedly paid him $5 million annually. He has also destroyed his reputation, a positive public image he had built through authenticity and kindness.
I agree with Margaret Forster, who also submitted a letter on Gilbert’s behalf to judge Morin. “I feel probation with community service would better serve this situation and the community. Gilbert has a natural affinity for children and I feel he can use this experience to counsel others.”
The most powerful letter of all came via Gilbert Arenas Sr. It’s a passionate plea for his son that gave me goose bumps as I read it.
“Locking him up for any amount of time would destroy him. He is fragile in a lot of ways; he just laughs and smiles to hide the pain. Gilbert has so much left to give and to do for others, but he needs to be free and working so that he can have the means to make it happen. He needs to be able to get the message out to the young people that one bad decision, even if it’s done as a joke, can change your life forever. I just hope, when deciding his fate, you will reach deep within your heart and be lenient, allowing him to move forward with his life. All I want for Gilbert, after all of this is over, is to be a better man; a more deserving role mode; a good father and even better son.”