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How a Heated Card Game Ruined Gilbert Arenas’ Career
AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File

NBA team flights serve as more than a mode of transportation. They’re flying, high-stake casinos and with some of the best athletes in the world at the table, and they brim with competition.

Former Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas can attest. During a trip in December 2009, tensions festered with teammate Javaris Crittenton.

Gilbert Arenas’ Locker Room Gun Incident

A group of Wizards was playing bourre in the back of the team plane. Booray (how it’s spelled if you’re not from the bayou) is a popular card game among NBA players similar to spades and hearts. Arenas awoke from a nap and joined a game in progress. Crittenton, on a cold streak, was already agitated when Arenas hopped in, per writer Jon Gold of The Action Network.

The former Arizona star poked at Crittenton with his notorious squawk. He baited Crittenton into a hand where he had a clear disadvantage against teammate JaVale McGee. McGee won the hand easily, and the trash-talking Arenas left.

As the plane lands, Crittenton was fuming. He threatened to shoot Arenas for increasing his gambling debts.

Arenas called his bluff at the next home game. He brought four guns, laid them out on a table in the locker room, and invited Crittenton to pick the hardware to shoot him with. On the other side of the Wizards locker room in the Verizon Center and with his back to Arenas, Crittenton spun around and revealed a loaded gun. He cocked his own gun and pointed it at Arenas. A showdown between gunslingers befit for the Old West in an NBA locker room.

Wizards forward Caron Butler recalls:

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“When I entered the locker room, I thought I had somehow been transported back to my days on the streets of Racine,” Butler wrote in his 2015 biography. “Gilbert was standing in front of his two locker stalls, the ones previously used by Michael Jordan, with four guns on display. Javaris was standing in front of his own stall, his back to Gilbert.”

Teammates filing into the locker room trading banter sensed the gravity of the situation and fled.

Butler added:

“I didn’t panic because I’d been through far worse, heard gunshots more times than I could count, and seen it all before,” his biography continues. “This would have been just another day on the south side.”

The incident led to leveling suspensions for both players. Then-commissioner David Stern suspended both players for the remainder of the season. Arenas, a three-time All-Star, was never the same player and out of the league two years later.

Agent Zero’s career highlights came in the 2006-07 season. He was scorching in December, scoring 60 against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 17 and dropped 54 on the Phoenix Suns to snap their 15-game win streak on Dec. 22. Washington lost in the first round of the playoffs that year to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Crittenton never played in the NBA again. In November 2011, he was charged with a connection to the murder of Julian Jones, a 22-year-old mother of four, in Atlanta. He pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2015 and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

The infamous incident is one of the wildest off-the-court situations in recent league memory. The Washington franchise took a step backward and careers were permanently tarnished.

Competitive juices sparingly clot in NBA players. At 30,000 feet, tensions can mount, even over a card game, and reach new heights beyond repair.

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Joe Grobeck About the author:
Joe is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and lives in Austin, Texas. He believes Ndaumkong Suh should've won the 2009 Heisman and is an avid basketball fan.
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