NBA Superstar Faces Potential Suspension – Pending Gun Investigation

            One of the NBA’s biggest superstars is in jeopardy of being suspended an undetermined amount of time, pending further information about his conduct while traveling to an away game.[1]Ja Morant is the high-flying phenomenon I am referring to, and the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 draft was seen brandishing what appeared to be a handgun while at a nightclub in Denver. The incident occurred in the early morning hours of March 4th, and the scene was captured during an Instagram Live video. The live feed began at 5:19 a.m. ET, and Morant was suspended by his team, the Memphis Grizzles, for at least the next two games that same afternoon.[2] The incident occurrent hours after the Grizzles lost to the Denver Nuggets, in a game that ended 113-97. Ja Morant is now under investigation by the NBA. In addition, he was temporarily under investigation by Colorado’s Glendale Police Department regarding the incident, but their investigation did not reveal enough information to press any criminal charges at this time. [3][4][5]

            At this point, the biggest question is how exactly Ja came to have the gun in his possession. The team was present in Denver as a result of their game on Friday against the Nuggets, and had taken a team plane from Memphis to get there. Assuming that Ja did not go out at some point during the team’s time in Colorado and purchase a gun, it leaves open the possibility that Ja took the gun with him on the team plane. This would have implications from both an NBA league office perspective, and an outside law enforcement perspective. While Colorado is an open carry state, there are state laws against possessing a firearm while intoxicated, as well as federal laws regarding interstate travel with firearms and procedures that must be followed while doing so. [6][7]Under the most recent NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), section 6.9 outlines that:

                        “Whenever a player is physically present at a facility or venue owned, operated, or being used by a Team, the NBA, or any League-related entity, and whenever a player is traveling on any NBA-related business, whether on behalf of the player’s Team, the NBA, or any League-related entity, such player shall not possess a firearm of any kind . . .”[8]

            Based on the current facts known, it would appear that Ja must have violated section 6.9 of the CBA. Unless additional facts are revealed which show that Ja obtained the gun in a manner which did not involve possession on NBA property, this violation will most likely be met with a powerful backlash from the NBA. There is some precedent for players possessing firearms on NBA league property. During the 2009-2010 season, Washington Wizards forward Gilbert Arenas was suspended for having brought a gun inside team facilities, following an argument he had with a teammate. Arenas was at first suspended indefinitely without pay, by then-commissioner David Stern.[9] When all was said and done, the suspension ended up being 50 games long, costing Arenas and his team the rest of his season. [10]The past player expressed empathy for the current star’s situation on his podcast, going so far as to imply that if he was the owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, he would “. . . do what every owner does . . .”, and ignore the superstars conduct. [11]

            Ja has apologized subsequently for his actions, giving a statement which read, “I take full responsibility for my actions last night. I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire Grizzlies organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.”[12] It is currently unclear exactly how long he will be away from the team for.

            The sponsor of Ja’s shoe brand, Nike, issued a statement shortly after the incident expressing that they will support their star representative in getting the help he needs to prioritize his well-being. [13]Ja’s other major sponsor, Powerade, has yet to comment on the situation, but it appears the relationship between the two parties has not changed substantially.

            All of this comes after Ja has had other instances of questionable behavior earlier this year. In February, Ja Morant and his entourage came under scrutiny after someone riding in Ja’s vehicle trained a red laser pointer on members of the Indiana Pacers team, following a Grizzles v. Pacers game.[14] On March 1st, the Washington Post released a story detailing police reports of an incident that occurred at the Morant residence over the summer, where Ja was accused of repeatedly punching a teenager before threatening him with a gun.[15] These events indicate that Ja has been dealing with internal struggles for some time, and it also appears his struggles were known to some of those closer to him. One of the veteran leaders on the Grizzlies, center Steven Adams, held a players-only meeting where he emphasized the importance of having discipline while traveling to road games, and specifically to avoid going out to party while traveling. [16] This meeting occurred prior to the Instagram Live video, so it is likely the veteran center was speaking indirectly to the young superstar during that meeting.

            It is not yet clear what the response will be from the NBA, and it is unlikely a decision will be made until their investigation is complete. If league precedent is any indicator, it is likely that Ja will face harsh repercussions from the league if it is in fact found that he had possession of the gun on league premises. The Grizzlies are currently sitting as the 2nd best team in the Western Conference, with 38 wins and 25 losses. With only 19 games left in the regular season, the Grizzlies could be without their best player for the rest of the regular season at a minimum, and for the duration of the post-season potentially.

















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