Let’s put aside, for a moment, the fact that Gilbert Arenas’ contract is the only reason anyone ever found out about his brainless decision to bring his unloaded guns to the Verizon Center. This is obvious. As I wrote on Wednesday, if Arenas were leading the league in scoring and not an injury plagued $100 million disaster, this story never leaks.
Now let’s focus on the real issue brought to light by Arenas’ situation: gambling. Oh, guns are a problem too. But they aren’t going anywhere. NBA Commissioner David Stern can ban them from the locker room (he probably assumed his players weren’t foolish enough to be packin’ at the arena already) and he can enforce stricter punishments for those caught in illegal possession of a gun. But he can’t stop players from legally owning any kind of weapon.
Guns are constitutional.
Gambling is cultural. And it’s more popular than ever.
It’s not just taking place among rich athletes on charter planes late at night either. It’s happening at your dining room table, where you think you like the idea of your kids staying in on a Friday night, but you don’t realize that they’re developing a habit that will make you wish they were playing pong instead of poker.
At some point, right around 2003, gambling became the new pickup basketball. I saw it firsthand. I was a junior in high school and you would very rarely find my group of friends hovering around a keg in some open field on a given weekend. Nope, we were hovering around a table in some older guy’s basement trying to make a quick buck. It started with a game called Acey-Deucey --which was probably rigged – and then morphed into various forms of Black Jack and poker until we all settled on no-limit hold ‘em.
We had a regular game for years. Were we addicted? That depends. None of us, at least, none that I know of, were stealing from our friends or families. We weren’t skipping school to play online. We didn’t quit the baseball team. But we definitely played pickup basketball a lot less, we always had a bad beat story to whine about and I think we would all agree that it was easier to find eight guys to play cards than it was for most of us to find a girlfriend.
And over the course of four years, we saw a number of friends exhibit one of the first signs of problem gambling: a bruised ego. That’s what comes long before fists or guns ever enter the equation. But arguments and fights and yes, in Arenas and Javaris Crittenton’s case, even guns can be the end result to a person feeling cheated or angry over losing a little too much.
That’s what people are missing when they’re comparing the NBA to The Wire. Should uneducated, naïve kids from any background, but particularly one that promotes violence, be allowed to own a gun? I say no. But the laws of the land say yes and not even Stern can change that.
What he can do is ban any kind of gambling from anything team-related. No poker or dice on the plane or in the locker room or even in the hotel rooms. He can let that dream of ever having a team play in Las Vegas go(can you imagine what would happen?). And he can make sure that if players don’t follow through, they’ll run the risk of having their contract voided. Believe me, given the currently economic state of the NBA, teams will strictly enforce Stern’s new rule.
And the league and its players will be better for it.