Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 1:35 pm  |  11 responses

The Gilbert Manifesto

United States V. Gilbert Arenas closes today. A look at the sentencing memos and Gil’s future.

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 yGilbert Arenas' gunsears 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 viGilbert Arenasolation 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 DirectorErnie Grunfeld 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.”

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  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    The one about the playoff check was the most powerful.
    It’s sad that Gilbert made this mistake and committed this crime. I can’t say the sentence recommendation is harsh, three months feels fair.
    But, what’s really sad is that Arenas had to go to jail for me to learn that he was generous enough to donate his entire playoff bonus check to a team official. An act of kindness like that speaks volumes.
    I wish we could learn more about these athletes and their community service. I understand why they don’t want their efforts publicized, but it would seem that if the mainstream media expended as much energy pursuing the good they do as it expends pursuing the bad, we would have a fuller picture of these players.

  • Farman

    Probation doesn’t justify what he has done. It’s time for professional athletes to be treated just like regular people. Helping people and families out has nothing to do with this case. As a professional ball player, it’s your duty to be a positive public figure. With the money they make, it’s the least they can do. They don’t have to, but it’s inhuman not too. These players make money people could only dream of. Regardless of your performance, the money is guaranteed. I hope the Washington can void his contract. Getting tired of seeing all these buyouts of players cause they can’t cash the contract they sign. At least in football, you earn the money you make………..

  • namik

    “It’s time for professional athletes to be treated just like regular people. Helping people and families out has nothing to do with this case. As a professional ball player, it’s your duty to be a positive public figure.”

    So on the one hand he should be treated as a regular person but on the other its his “duty” to carry himself as a positive figure? So if he f*cks up, like he has now, then throw him in jail. But if he does something good, contributes to society, its not a big deal because he is already SUPPOSED to be doing that?? Wow, talk about double standards.

    These people make that kind of money because they have talent above and beyond what you and I do, and because in most cases, they bust their asses to get there. Let us not act as if their earnings are ill gotten gains. They would be perfectly justified NOT to give away their money. But they do. And if we line up to shoot them down when they mess up, then we should have the decency to appreciate the kindness they show to the less fortunate.

    I don’t think they should put him in jail. Plain and simple. Dude is a good guy. If nothing else, let us not completely discount his charitable work when we judge him on this one big mistake.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Nima Zarrabi

    @AllenP: I also never knew about much of Gil’s generosity until I read all of the letters in the defense memo. I agree that it’s sad that we had to learn about these great deeds through this circumstance. I urge everyone to read the letters in the memo, which is posted at the Washington Post website. They are powerful and some of the stories are extremely touching. @Farman: Thank you for your comment but I completely disagree. Gil’s good deeds are a big part of this. They were definitely noted by the judge today and the main point is that a true deterrent for this type of behavior is not putting Gil behind bars. It’s mandating that he do all kinds of community work with at risk youth so he can help young people avoid the mistakes that he has made. Gil can connect with kids like no other. That is proven in some of the letters that people wrote on his behalf. A punishment filled with community service hours is a better solution. He is not a high risk criminal. I am glad that the judge in this case chose leniency. Gil could have received far worse, but he was spared jail time and I am happy for him. I hope that he comes out of this a better person and continues his work helping those in need. @namik: Thank you for sharing your point of view. I think you bring up some excellent points.

  • aL

    He donated his entire playoff bonus check for a sick kid..if that doesn’t count for a good soul, I dont know what does..

  • Danny23

    I wonder how many “suits” from Lehman Bros and the other financial cos. could put together a list like the one above?

  • http://www.another48minutes.com Gerard Himself

    like Charles Barkley said on Thursday: “Gilbert Arenas doesn’t belong in jail; jail is for bad people.”

  • HZK

    The letters submitted on behalf of Gilbert illustrate a side of Gil that the general public had not been exposed to. Prior to the gun incident, the general media has portrayed Gil as a rich outspoken black athlete that might have ADHD. After the regrettable gun incident, he received no special treatment and got “Mike Vicked” as he was painted as another black athlete with TOO MUCH $. He does not deserve to be behind bars. The honorable judge Robert E. Morin could have easily given Gil jail time since seemingly everyone had a negative opinion about the case. Instead judge Morin stayed true to himself and his practice, and made a true-individual humanistic decision when he gave Gil probation and community service. Props to the judge as well as the people who stood up for Agent Zero at a time when nobody had his back.

  • Ronald

    Again, some of the comments above show the ignorance of laymen regarding to their own judicial system. Charity and character has EVERYTHING to do with a plea of mitigation (which is basically what the memo was for) in conjunction with background, education, age, family, previous record etc. And before you say that Probation doesn’t justify what he has done ask yourself whether you’ve done the research to qualify to say that. Do you know in what circumstances and facts the Judge gives out probation? Have you read all the precedents in regards to sentencing guidelines for the offence? Or, are you saying that a man who gets paid a lot to sit in the court room to deal with cases everyday is unaware of sentencing guidelines and/or precedents and is UNABLE to hand down a suitable sentence despite his decades of experience sitting on the bench?

    And please don’t ridicule the NBA players by implying that they do not earn their money. Sure, some are overpaid but most of them have worked hard to get where they are, and it’s not like it is easy to get to the NBA. You do have to beat out millions and millions of hopefuls every year to get to the NBA and theres always some young up and coming player trying to win your job away from you.

  • http://www.slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/farmer-jones/ Ryan Jones

    Thorough as hell, Nima.

  • http://Hyeroushalmi@gmail.com Hooman

    He has lost enough money after being suspended for the rest of the season. They should just give him a second chance starting next season.
    Good article, nice job.