Following a season in which guard Ja Morant’s immaturity put the success of the Memphis Grizzlies in jeopardy — and you don’t get any more immature than raising a gun in a strip club less than a year after signing a $193 million contract — a guy on the verge of being one of the new faces of the league was asked about his role as a team leader.
“I just got to be better with my decision-making, that’s pretty much it,” Morant said in the news conference after the Grizzlies were eliminated from the playoffs. “Off-the-court issues affected us as an organization.”
Morant’s definition of better decision-making? Clearly it’s pulling a gun in yet another social media live video over the weekend, this time while riding in a car with his boys.
For what’s at stake for Morant — his importance to his team, his future earnings, which helps his family establish generational wealth — pulling a gun again falls well beyond being immature.
It’s an off-the-court act that reaches to Antonio Brown levels of ineptitude.
This isn’t about Morant’s Second Amendment rights. Even in the absurdity of living in the most heavily armed country in the world — where there are more guns than citizens — Morant has a legal right to own a gun.
This one incident isn’t about Morant’s crew. Nobody prompted Morant to raise his gun in the Colorado club in March, or in the car in the video posted over the weekend. The response of his boy, seeing the gun being waved, was to immediately turn his phone camera away.
This is about a guy who appeared in a well-publicized redemption video two months ago and told ESPN viewers “the gun wasn’t mine. It’s not who I am.”
So, who is Ja Morant?
Is he the guy linked to a January confrontation involving the Indiana Pacers, with a report by The Athletic that alleged a red laser from the SUV he was riding in was trained on the visiting team’s bus?
The league investigated and concluded, “we could not corroborate that any individual threatened others with a weapon,” despite a member of the Pacers traveling party telling The Athletic “we felt we were in grave danger.”
The response from Morant, after dodging discipline, was to show off.
Is Morant the guy linked to an alleged attack of a teenager during a pickup basketball game last summer? The original report from TMZ in January alleged that Morant punched the teen.
But a more detailed report from The Washington Post in March cited police documents that alleged that the Grizzlies star punched the teen up to 13 times and later flashed a gun.
In that same story, a mall security guard said he felt threatened by Morant after the second overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft showed up at a mall after his mother had beef with a shoe store employee. Morant was quoted in the police report as saying, “Let me find out what time he gets off.”
Three days after that bombshell story from The Washington Post was published, Morant pulled a gun in a club, resulting in an eight-game suspension without pay for conduct detrimental to the team.
None of this makes sense. Morant is 23 years old, a two-time All-Star, the 2020 Rookie of the Year and the recipient of a five-year, $193 million contract that’s scheduled to kick in next season and will set up future generations of his family.
Morant’s been prominently featured in national ads for Powerade and Hulu. Nike is scheduled to drop his signature shoe May 25 (it was delayed following the first gun incident), a move that could demonstrate his iconic stature in the game.
And that is now at risk in Morant’s “throw ya gunz” move in an attempt to impress 111 people, the number of viewers who watched the live video.
Those few days of therapy in Florida that followed the eight-game suspension? Having lived around people and their various addictions, a weeklong getaway is the equivalent of treating cancer with a Band-Aid.
You can’t address your problem if you don’t admit you have one. Maybe a real suspension from the Grizzlies and the league might force Morant to realize what’s at stake.
A season-long suspension without basketball and those hefty basketball checks? That might be the wake-up call Morant truly needs.
Chicago Bulls guard Patrick Beverley had an interesting take on Morant’s behavior during an episode of his podcast. “The music we listen to is real big,” Beverley said. “The music say, ‘I keep [a gun]’ … That turns into, ‘I need a [gun].’ ”
Say Beverley’s right and Morant is impacted by the lyrics of the rap artists that he follows. What’s the impact on the millions of fans — many of them young and impressionable — who follow Morant? Seeing Morant pull a gun provides, to some of them, validation.
Let’s go back to something I wrote earlier, that this latest incident isn’t about his crew, and it’s not.
But Morant’s overall problem has to do with the people he hangs with, the people who have been by his side during each of his transgressions. His friend who was banned from Memphis Grizzlies games following the laser incident was the same friend who was involved in the alleged assault of the teen and the same friend who appeared in the latest video of Morant pulling a gun.
Sometimes your friends ain’t your friends.
Morant’s now has an off-the-court rep: He’s packing, and he’s not afraid to pull his gun. Say there’s beef between Morant’s crew and another crew. Don’t you think that’s a recipe for disaster?
And where’s Morant’s sense of responsibility as a young Black man, existing in a nation where Black people are disproportionately victims of gun violence? According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Black Americans are 10 times more likely to die from a gunshot than white Americans. The problem is only getting worse, and people like Morant — and his desire to embrace a thug life — don’t help.
Morant, at 23, is amazingly at a career crossroads.
Does he travel the path of true redemption? Can he realize the full potential of his athletic gifts and reach superstar status? Or does he continue his antics and face a premature exit from the NBA?
Gilbert Arenas, as talented a guard as the NBA has ever seen, admitted to storing guns in his locker when he played with the Washington Bullets, and there are reports that he and teammate Javaris Crittenton were involved in a dispute in 2009 where guns were displayed and drawn. Arenas pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge, and the three-time All-Star was playing with the Shanghai Sharks at the age of 30.
Who knows how long Morant will be suspended, or whether his signature shoe will be further delayed?
The impact of his actions have been felt.
The incident cost him money. Not making any of the three All-NBA teams — you can argue Morant is one of the top 15 players in the league — meant Morant lost out on $39 million in bonuses.
The incident cost him popularity. Morant had the sixth-highest selling NBA jersey before the first gun incident, and dropped to eighth by the end of the season.
When that sit-down interview ran on ESPN two months ago today, Morant made a promise.
“In the future I’m going to show everybody who Ja really is. What I’m about. And I’m going to change this narrative,” he said.
Morant, in flashing a gun over the weekend, showed who he really is, and what he’s really about. That narrative on his NBA career now, because of his inability to conform, is closely approaching an expiration date if he doesn’t change.