Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas is all the talk these days. He was suspended by the NBA and faces possible jail time after pleading guilty to felony gun possession without a permit. Some reports have him threatening a teammate.
That same guy has a tattoo that he calls Black Rushmore, featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and President Barack Obama.
And that about sums up a struggle of the NBA: Its players have a heart for the right thing, and many do, but they are mostly known for their ills and missteps.
"You know what I think it is," said Warriors legend Al Attles, who is in his 50th season with the franchise. "A lot of the young people really care about folks. The unfortunate part is, the ones who are kind of on the fence, they are the ones you hear about. So, consequently, people think they are all like that."
Across the country today, the NBA will help turn people's attention toward the late Dr. King. To his work toward improving race relations in this country. To his legacy of peace and equality. To his role in the African-American movement.
A slate of games and tributes are lined up, including a 1 p.m. affair between the Warriors and Chicago Bulls at Oracle Arena. The commercials have already been airing. The halftime videos are ready to roll.
But does the NBA really represent what King was about? It's hard to tell sometimes with all the talk of NBA players and guns or domestic
"For the most part," Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford said, "players of this generation try to treat everyone equal no matter their color or gender. ... Try to respect one another. There are still situations in life we can improve on, but overall, I think Dr. King would be proud of how far we've come."
As a league, the NBA has long been a champion for Dr. King and his legacy. The league recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day years before it became a national holiday. The league even stood up against the state of Arizona for not observing the holiday, even canceling league meetings in Scottsdale in 1987.
What's more, players and executives have been champions for the same causes that Dr. King addressed, even before Dr. King.
"The NBA has always been head and shoulder above," Attles said. "And you've got to delineate even further back to the individuals who hired people who look like me. Mr. (Franklin) Mieuli. Red Auerbach. The owner who hired Lenny Wilkins. The owner who hired KC Jones."
More than 80 percent of the players are African-American. Nearly a quarter of the head coaches are African-American (and don't forget about Miami's Erik Spoelstra, the NBA's first Asian/Filipino-American head coach). And the NBA welcomed major pro sports' first African-American owner in Robert Johnson, majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Some contend Dr. King's spirit exists in today's player, but through different methods. Players generally avoid political issues because of the financial risk — though there has been an uptick lately, with players participating publicly in the 2008 presidential election and players like Tracy McGrady championing Darfur's cause.
Though today's players are portrayed as selfish and unruly, their contributions to the community are undeniable. The league heavily promotes NBA Cares, its community service arm, but even that doesn't include the private and unheralded services players perform.
Warriors forward Corey Maggette is of the mind that the modern NBA player carries out Dr. King's legacy not by speaking out on issues, but by using their wealth to improve the lives of others and rebuilding communities.
"A perfect example of one guy who does a whole lot is Kevin Garnett," Maggette said. "A lot of guys are like that. I think the role of today's player is learning to, not forget about the past, but put the past in the past and build on the future.
"This game, it's just a blessing. A lot of people paved for the way. Not only Martin Luther King, but a lot of people put us in this position. I don't take this for granted."
Notes: The Warriors got another injury exception from the league and signed Anthony Tolliver to a 10-day contract. Tolliver, a 6-foot-9 forward, played 14 games with the Idaho Stampede of the Development League and averaged 21.4 points and 11.4 rebounds. He was called up by Portland on Dec. 17 and played two games before being waived by the Trail Blazers on Dec. 29. The Warriors needed Tolliver because they had only six healthy players — including forward Cartier Martin, who is wearing goggles so he can play with a torn tear duct in his right eye. ... Guard Anthony Morrow's MRI confirmed a sprained right knee. One source said it was an medial collateral ligament sprain. The Warriors said he could be back as soon as Friday, two weeks at the most. But a sprained MCL can take up to four weeks to heal. With guard C.J. Watson out with a laceration on his right hand, the Warriors have no reserve guards. ... Forward Vladimir Radmanovic is doubtful with a sore right Achilles tendon and center Ronny Turiaf (sprained right ankle) is day-to-day.