By Jordan Weissmann
When a photo of Gilbert Arenas pointing his fingers like two guns, surrounded by his teammates, was published in The Washington Post, many people called it a sign that the Washington Wizards star had yet to appreciate the serious crime he had committed by bringing guns into his locker room.
But on Friday, as he faced sentencing at D.C. Superior Court, an emotional Arenas said that the photo had a very different significance for him. It was a portrait, he said, of friends trying to cope with the worst of circumstances.
“To me, I’m looking at a picture where 14 or 15 teammates are laughing together for the last time,” he said.
In January, Arenas pleaded guilty to one felony count of carrying a pistol without a license. Today, Judge Robert Morin sentenced him to two years of probation, 30 days in a halfway house, a $5,000 fine and 400 hours of community service (none of which, he added, could be completed with a basketball clinic).
The judge suspended an 18-month jail sentence, which would have been followed by three years of supervised release. It was a relatively forgiving decision. Prosecutors, who argued Arenas had yet to show remorse for his crime, asked Morin for a three-month jail sentence.
Indeed, much of the hearing focused on whether Arenas had shown the proper contrition since reports emerged that he had brought four guns to the Wizards’ Verizon Center locker room after a confrontation with teammate Javaris Crittenton over a gambling debt. Arenas later described the decision as a misguided prank.
In his brief remarks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh recalled the now infamous finger-gun photo as proof that Arenas had shown no remorse for his mistake, accusing him of “essentially making a mockery of this judicial system.”
But in a speech that lasted more 40 minutes, Arenas’ lawyer, O’Melveny & Myers partner Kenneth Wainstein, castigated prosecutors for “embarking on a public relations campaign” against his client to “get an additional pound of flesh.”
Wainstein accused the U.S. Attorney’s Office of having “tunnel vision” and of using selective evidence to produce a skewed sentencing memorandum. He said that Crittenton, who himself pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge relating to the locker room incident, had been given “a walk” in return for his version of events. He said that Arenas never had any violent intention, quickly turned over the guns and cooperated with the authorities.
On the topic of Arenas’ remorse, Wainstein turned a bit sarcastic. He noted prosecutors’ argument that Arenas shouldn’t get full credit for his guilty plea because it dovetailed with the basketball player’s professional and economic interests. Wainstein contrasted that argument with the lesson of his Sunday school days—that confession still absolved sins even though it also helped get you into heaven.
“I find it interesting that what’s good enough for God isn’t good enough for the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” he said.
When it was his turn to speak, Arenas acknowledged that he had made mistakes, particularly when he initially attempted to cover for Crittenton by saying all of the guns were his own. “I know it wasn’t right, but I’d rather keep a friend, keep a teammate, and lose everything else,” he said.
Judge Morin, for his part, noted that Arenas’ guns were unloaded and that his previous gun-related misdemeanor conviction was also a nonviolent offense. He emphasized that he was sentencing Arenas as he would anybody else. After the two lawyers had brought up previous sentences handed out to National Basketball Association players, he commented, “We don’t have a sub-category of sentences for basketball players.”
His final judgment on Arenas: “At core, you’re a decent person.”