WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas pleaded guilty on Friday to felony weapons possession and faces up to six months in prison under his plea deal for bringing four guns into the team’s locker room.
Arenas, 28, who signed a six-year, $111 million contract in the summer of 2008, has been suspended indefinitely by the NBA over last month’s incident at the Verizon Center.
Arenas, who has said the guns were unloaded, entered the guilty plea to the single felony count during a standing-room-only hearing that lasted just under 30 minutes in District of Columbia Superior Court.
The charge, carrying a pistol without a license in violation of D.C. law, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and Judge Robert Morin told Arenas he was not necessarily bound by the plea deal.
A tentative sentencing date of March 26 was set, pending a sentencing report that could take up to eight weeks. But the lawyer for Arenas, Kenneth Wainstein, pressed for an earlier sentencing date.
Throughout the proceeding, Morin asked Arenas a series of questions, including whether he understood the terms of the plea agreement and that he would be giving up certain rights under the deal. He replied softly but firmly, “Yes sir.”
Wainstein and Arenas, with his head slightly bowed, left the courtroom without comment. In a statement, Wainstein said his client “accepted full responsibility for his actions, acknowledged that those actions were wrong and against the law, and has apologized to all who have been affected.”
Prosecutor Chris Kavanaugh told reporters, “We are pleased with the disposition.”
A multi-story banner of Arenas outside the Wizards’ Verizon Center home in downtown Washington was taken down after the incident and the team has removed all Arenas-related merchandise from the building’s souvenir stands.
Arenas played in only 15 games over the past two years because of an injury to his left knee but returned this season to lead the Wizards in scoring.
Despite Arenas’ return, the Wizards have struggled this season and at 12-25 are tied for the third-worst record in the 15-team Eastern Conference. The Wizards have lost four of five games since the NBA suspended the guard.
The three-time All Star met federal prosecutors earlier this month to explain why he took the weapons out while in the locker room. Arenas insisted in a statement last week it was a “misguided effort to play a joke on a teammate.”
Kavanaugh laid out the details of the case against Arenas in court, describing that Arenas and another Wizards player, identified in news reports as Javaris Crittenton, had an argument after a card game as the team flew back to Washington from Phoenix late on December 19.
They threatened to shoot each other and Arenas also said he would burn the teammate’s Cadillac Escalade, Kavanaugh said.
Two days later, Arenas entered the Wizards’ locker room and put four guns on a chair in front of the teammate’s locker and a note that said “PICK 1.” Arenas told authorities the other player showed his own weapon, but the teammate has denied it.
The firearms, which Wizards’ security personnel took back to Arenas’ home, included a .50-caliber gold-plated semi-automatic Desert Eagle, a .500 magnum Smith & Wesson revolver, a .45 caliber semi-automatic Kimber Eclipse, and a 9 millimeter Browning, according to the prosecutor.
On December 24, Washington police were informed of the incident and recovered the firearms at Arenas’ Virginia home.
In his statement last week, Arenas apologized “to everybody for letting them down with my conduct.”
The nine-year NBA veteran, at his peak one of the league’s best players, averaged 22.6 points and 7.2 assists in 32 games this season before his suspension.
Additional reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Peter Cooney