Ja Morant’s fate is now known, the grizzlies around him say maturity, not guns, is the problem

MIAMI — The NBA has suspended Ja Morant for drunkenly holding a gun at a Denver-area nightclub.

This is not Morant’s word against anyone else’s. It’s not an accusation or hearsay, just facts confirmed by league investigators.

“The discipline (eight-game suspension) is in response to Morant live-streaming a video on March 4 of him intoxicatedly holding a firearm while visiting a Denver-area nightclub,” the NBA said in their press release announcing their suspension.

A few drinks at a late night joint isn’t going to suspend anyone. If you flash a weapon while doing this, it will. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Morant’s “conduct was irresponsible, inconsiderate and potentially very dangerous,” adding that the 23-year-old two-time All-Star “expressed sincere remorse and regret.”

But this is not the first incident, proven or alleged, involving Morant and a firearm. On May 14, 2022, he responded to a heckling fan on Twitter by saying, “It’s free to see what cavities feel like,” before deleting it. There were gun-related allegations in the July 26 incident at Morant’s Memphis home, in which both Morant and his close friend, Vomte Pack, were accused of hitting a then-17-year-old after it happened at their pickup basketball game a quarrel had arisen.

Then came the Jan. 29 post-game incident in Memphis, when Morant’s acquaintances, including Pack, aggressively confronted members of the Indiana Pacers near the team bus in the loading area of ​​the FedEx Forum, and a verbal altercation ensued for nearly 20 minutes . As the athlete reported Then, in early February, Morant got into one of two vehicles that were within 100 to 150 feet of the Pacers bus. According to sources, members of the Pacers tour group then saw a red laser aimed at them, which they believed came from a gun. The laser, sources said, came from the SUV that was transporting Morant.

According to a statement from league spokesman Mike Bass, the NBA investigation — launched in response to the Pacers allegations — confirmed the post-game confrontation but “could not confirm that an individual threatened others with a weapon.”

Morant has spent the last few days at an undisclosed location in Florida seeking counseling – as what he was counseled has not been disclosed. While numerous members of the Grizzlies organization narrated the athlete They had been concerned for months about Morant’s extrajudicial conduct, no one contacted about this story had previously considered guns a problem.

Now they must at least consider it.

“Everyone’s seen the last few headlines that have come out over the past few weeks,” said Tyus Jones, Morant’s friend and Grizzlies reserve point guard. “I mean nobody wants to see them, nobody likes them. But ultimately, Ja is a good guy. I don’t think anyone sees ill will or bad intentions.

“So I wouldn’t say I was super worried or anything, but the previous few headlines that have come out aren’t ideal.”

After a 138-119 drubbing against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, just hours after the NBA announced Morant’s suspension, two of Morant’s closest friends on the team described a rising superstar who may be struggling to adjust to his skyrocketing fame , its notoriety. Bank account and the responsibility that comes with it.

Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies’ star forward, said Morant is “close to heading the league in a minute.”

“He’s going to come right back and run the league,” Jackson said. “He ran the league. It’s not like he’s in a crisis. Everyone makes mistakes growing up in front of the camera. Many stars have done this in the past. It happens.”

When asked if Morant’s recent links to guns are a cause for concern, Jackson shook his head.

“No,” he said. “He only makes mistakes.”

Jones added: “Every year (Morant) gets more attention and he becomes one of the faces of the league. This means more responsibility on and off the pitch. Sometimes that just takes some growing pains to go through. For him it’s not the same situation as last year. It’s not the same last year as the year before. So you have to keep growing, keep learning. They are just life lessons.”

Morant, from a small, rural community in South Carolina, grew up modestly and played his college basketball at Murray State, a so-called “mid-major” school in Division I of the NCAA. By the end of his sophomore season, he was a national star, the first Division I player to average at least 20 points and 10 assists for a season, and good enough to be the Grizzlies’ #2 draft pick.

Morant moved to Memphis with both of his parents and several other family members and close friends, spending virtually all of his free time with them during his first two seasons. He was the league’s 2020 Rookie of the Year and propelled the Grizzlies through the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament and into the playoffs.

He got his first taste of being an NBA All-Star last year, and his flight to Cleveland All-Star Weekend was perhaps the first outward sign of trouble. Morant posted a video of himself drinking heavily while traveling on a private jet with family members. At times, Morant even used liquor bottles as fake weapons while pointing at the camera.

Morant explained his behavior on the flight as a celebration of a landmark moment with those closest to him. But he had six points and three assists in 17 minutes into the game, with some sources close to the situation believing his sluggish game was the result of his partying.

In early July, the Grizzlies awarded Morant a five-year extension to his rookie contract, the “Supermax,” worth at least $193 million. That same month, the alleged incident between Morant, Pack and a teenager happened at Morant’s home. According to The Washington Post, another incident happened four days later at a Memphis mall, in which a security guard said Morant “threatened” him during an altercation in the parking lot. According to the report, the incident began when Morant’s mother got into an argument with a shoe shop clerk, asking Morant for help, and he arrived shortly after “with up to nine other people.”

As part of the league’s investigation into the incident involving Morant, his staff and the Pacers, the NBA said: “Certain individuals involved in the post-game situation and a related matter during that night’s game , was subsequently banned from attending games in the arena.” Just as Morant would later do play on social mediaPack – which was part of an in-game back and forth with Pacers players before they are ejected that night – was known to be among the forbidden.

In an on-camera interview with ESPN, arranged in New York on Wednesday after Morant met with Silver at the league’s headquarters, Morant denied the gun he was carrying on April 4 was a “lie.” He confessed to the behavior that led to his suspension, saying it’s “not who I am”.

“I do not condone violence or any kind of violence, but I take full responsibility for my actions,” he said. “I made a terrible mistake. I can see the picture I have painted about myself with my recent mistakes.”

The NBA said it has not concluded that the gun Morant kept at the nightclub on March 4 belonged to him or that he had brought it with him on the team’s flight to Denver or into the Grizzlies’ locker room at the ball arena. If he did any of those things, he could have faced a lengthy suspension. Instead, his ban is retroactive to March 5 and he can return after two more games.

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said Morant will return to the team on Monday but is unlikely to play Dallas in a home game that night as he will have been away for two weeks and will need a short “run-in period”. Memphis begins Saturday with a four-game homestand, and Morant’s first possible road game would be March 26 in Atlanta — where Jenkins admitted Morant will likely face significant backlash from opposing fans.

Though Memphis owns the third-best record in the West, it’s a dismal 13-22 on the road that numerous team insiders have blamed on a lack of maturity and focus emanating from Morant – who otherwise averages 27.1 points and a career achieved. best 8.2 assists in an All-Star season.

Travel measures have even been put in place to limit nightlife habits this season, with the Grizzlies leaving more street towns (particularly the glitzier ones like Miami) immediately after the game rather than staying overnight. Other accountability measures may follow.

“We (are) going to sit down and talk to him and walk him through this process,” Jenkins said. “That will be our focus, on and off the pitch. As I said at the beginning, support and accountability – that is what we focus on. Not just in the past few weeks, but in the future.

“Of course everything will be different.”

(Top Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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