And here’s where Arenas and the truth seem to part ways. Arenas said he brought them to work to get them out of his house and away from his three kids. He put them in his locker with the intent of turning them over to Wizards security personnel. Then he decided to use them to play a practical joke on a teammate. Then, after the NBA, the District and the U.S. attorney launched investigations into the incident, Arenas, through an attorney, admitted that he was wrong and said he was very sorry.

Except what we now know is this: According to two first-hand accounts, Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton got into a dispute over unpaid gambling debts during a plane ride, and threats were exchanged. Two days later, Arenas set four unloaded guns in Crittenton’s locker cubicle with a note reading “Pick One.” Crittenton pulled his own piece, loaded it and chambered a round.

I don’t know about you, but this kind of thing happens in my office all the time.

There are so many things wrong with this scenario it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start with the guns. Either four guns were already in his locker Dec. 19, when the airplane argument occurred, or he brought them from home between that trip and the Dec. 21 incident. Neither is a good scenario.

He said he brought them in so he could turn them over to security officials, so why hadn’t he? If he brought them in after the airplane incident, then he either took Crittenton’s threats seriously — and therefore lied about the reason he brought the guns to the arena — or he is the worst practical joker in history. It’s a bad idea to joke with a gun, loaded or not.

Then we are to believe that, instead of alerting anyone in authority that Crittenton had a loaded gun, Arenas decided to protect his dope of a teammate by taking the rap for his own weapons and casting the whole incident as one big joke. He apparently came up with this great idea on his own; Arenas has no agent, and it’s difficult to believe the Wizards helped him with this master strategy.

In fact, although the incident first came to light on Christmas day, Arenas doesn’t appear to have gotten legal help until Jan. 4, when a local law firm issued a statement for him, insisting he felt great remorse over the incident. He then tweeted and twittered and blathered to anyone and everyone that he had done nothing wrong and that he most definitely was not sorry. The tipping point came Tuesday night in Philadelphia, when during a pregame huddle Arenas used his thumbs and index fingers to form “guns” and pretended to shoot his laughing teammates. After the game, he told reporters: “If I really did something wrong, I would feel remorse in what I did, but I didn’t do anything.”

And finally — finally — someone stepped into to save Gilbert Arenas from himself. Commissioner David Stern stopped using the judicial process as an excuse to remain silent and suspended Arenas indefinitely, and without pay. “Although it is clear that the actions of Mr. Arenas will ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse, his ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game,” his statement said. “Accordingly, I am suspending Mr. Arenas indefinitely, without pay, effective immediately pending the completion of the investigation by the NBA.”

It was — no pun intended — a stern warning. I hope it was based more on a concern for the safety of all concerned, including the Wizards and their fans, and less from a concern over the NBA’s image. The timing of the suspension, coupled with the league’s decision to temporarily pull the now infamous Gilbert the Gunslinger photo from the Getty Images Web site, makes you wonder about its priorities.

Stern is perhaps the most proactive commissioner in sports. He seldom lets a problem fester for 14 days. But in Arenas’s case, he did a disservice to the league, to the Wizards — who drew a lot of criticism (including from me) for their deafening silence on the situation — and to Arenas himself.

It should have been clear from the incident and Arenas’s erratic behavior in its aftermath that the Wizards’ star needed guidance. Whatever his motives, all the blather and bravado have made Arenas seem alternately clueless and calculating, saying one thing through his attorneys and then the opposite via Twitter. By not taking a firm hand two weeks ago, the league let Arenas dig himself a hole that he might never escape.

Meanwhile, Crittenton’s action may have been the more egregious, but he’s shown better judgment than Arenas: He hasn’t admitted to having a gun, no gun has been found and he apparently got a lawyer a lot earlier in the process. More important to the league, perhaps, he hasn’t acted like the incident is one big joke. Right now, the NBA’s hands are tied where he is concerned. But don’t suggest that Arenas be let off the hook because Crittenton apparently was the first to draw. This is 2010; Wild West rules do not apply. Both players violated the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. Both violated D.C.’s gun laws. A grand jury is investigating the incident now.

But Arenas may pay the bigger price, because he told the truth, then didn’t, and then laughed.

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