Friday, March 26, 2010
Gilbert Arenas on the lunatic fringe of comedy
By Henry Abbott
Legal analyst and journalist Lester Munson hits the nail on the head when he says prosecutors have been "prodigious and occasionally masterly" in building the case that the judge should decide to jail Gilbert Arenas at his sentencing this afternoon in Washington D.C. Though the government attorneys gave light treatment to the deterrents already in place, the case is strong that in addition to flouting gun laws he must have known about, Arenas behaved in a genuinely dangerous fashion, changed his story several times and showed only intermittent remorse.
But there's a small point -- maybe it doesn't matter at all -- on which the lawyers are less masterly. That's when they insist that Arenas was not trying to be funny:
The government's evidence, contradicts the notion that this was a joke. Both Crittenton and uninvolved witnesses stated that the defendant was serious when he was threatening Crittenton on the plane. At times, the defendant may have laughed, but people familiar with his personality were still left with the impression that his threats were genuine. Further, in the locker room, even though the defendant may have been laughing, Crittenton and other people were not. Some present went so far as to say they "felt endangered." They did not take it as a joke because it was not a joke. Instead, this was the defendant's calculated response to confront a more junior player who had disprespected him in front of his entire team.
Everything they say about the danger of the situation, the disrespect and all that, is undoubtedly true. But that in no way disproves the notion that it was also, in addition to all that, a joke.
The Joe Pesci factor
I must now insist that you watch Joe Pesci's profanity-laced masterpiece "Goodfellas" scene. Yes, even if you've seen it before.
Now, let me ask you:
Did Pesci's character really intend to scare the crap out of that young mobster, to remind him who's boss?
Did he assault the restauranteur, to intimidate him out of having to pay the bill?
Was he playing it for laughs the whole time?
Was he "joking?"
His audience was howling. Yes.
The stench of bad humor
Not a lot of people joke/intimidate like fictional mobsters. It's an almost outlandish proposition that Arenas has that capacity.
But his credentials are hard to ignore, especially if you're Andray Blatche. As the prosecutors point out, (based on a Mike Wise and Michael Lee Washington Post article) Arenas once defecated in Andray Blatche's shoe.
I discourage you from picturing that. But if you already did ... let's all agree that this is one of the filthiest, most aggressive and craziest things imaginable. This is not crossing a line. This is scoffing at the idea of basic human decency.
The insult to Blatche (and, for good measure, whatever poor soul had to clean that up) could hardly be more stark. This must be seen as yet another case (like Pesci and young mobster, Arenas and Crittenton) of an elder putting a youngster almost violently in his place. This certainly could have started a fight. This was so reckless a joke that it was dangerous. You break a glass over a guy's face over the presentation of the check, like Pesci's character, you're both itching for a fight and telling the room that when the fight starts, you can be counted on to be totally out of control. (Note the gun in his belt!)
The ultimate sneaker fouling makes a similar statement. You're supposed to laugh at that thing. It's intended to be a million things, including funny. But if you don't get the message to back off and let the joker have the last word -- you're asking for it.
Anyone who has seen a mob movie gets the message of the dead fish wrapped in newspaper. This is the dead fish wrapped in comics.
There's one other point that the prosecutors gloss over. Despite doing exhaustive research since the December incident, they haven't turned up the slightest connection between Arenas and ammunition. No trips to the shooting range. No glove box full of bullets. In the NBA's other "horsing around" gun incident, Jayson Williams' shooting of driver Gus Christofi, people rightly pointed to Williams' book "Loose Balls," where he tells of once almost accidentally shooting Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet while horsing around. This is not like that, which makes Arenas' horrible version of humor at least 1% more credible. It's believable that Agent Zero had zero interest in actually shooting anyone.
As long as we're talking about comedy, how about the Chris Rock line, that guns don't kill people, bullets kill people.
Prosecutors say it was a premeditated confrontation designed to intimidate a teammate into capitulating. Arenas can say it was a premeditated joke, in which he knew -- by omitting bullets -- no one was ever going to get hurt. Under the Pesci rules, they can both be right.
The laws are about guns (not just loaded guns), and Arenas had those for sure. So that is that. And he surely did create the exact kind of dangers that the laws were intended to prevent. Even if he thought he was never going to shoot anybody, he scared enough people to the point that they might have done something crazy in self-defense, and in that case Arenas surely would have been the instigator. It's a good role of the judicial system to do what it can to put a stop to that reckless kind of one-upsmanship.
But in the interest of accuracy, let's not be too emphatic in insisting that humor played no part. Crazy though it may seem, this whole scary thing could well have been some kind of joke, even if it upset the audience.
And it's a joke whose ultimate punch line, due this afternoon, may upset the joker.