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Grizzlies’ Ja Morant suspended 25 games for ‘intentionally and prominently’ waiving gun on social media

Dan Patrick reacts to the news of Ja Morant receiving a suspension from the NBA that's reported to be 25 games.

The NBA has suspended Grizzlies star guard Ja Morant 25 games without pay for “intentionally and prominently” displaying a gun on social media while in a car with associates, Morant’s second time being suspended for brandishing a handgun on social media in three months.

The suspension also comes with conditions for his return, the NBA announced. While it’s a significant suspension (and about what was projected), the league did not use a sledgehammer to drive home its point.

“Ja Morant’s decision to once again wield a firearm on social media is alarming and disconcerting given his similar conduct in March for which he was already suspended eight games,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “The potential for other young people to emulate Ja’s conduct is particularly concerning. Under these circumstances, we believe a suspension of 25 games is appropriate and makes clear that engaging in reckless and irresponsible behavior with guns will not be tolerated.

“For Ja, basketball needs to take a back seat at this time. Prior to his return to play, he will be required to formulate and fulfill a program with the league that directly addresses the circumstances that led him to repeat this destructive behavior.”

Morant released a statement through Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“I’ve had time to reflect and I realize how much hurt I’ve caused,” Morant said in the statement. “I want to apologize to the NBA, the Grizzlies, my teammates and the city of Memphis. To Adam Silver, Zach Kleiman and Robert Pera — who gave me the opportunity to be a professional athlete and have supported me — I’m sorry for the harm I’ve done. To the kids who look up to me, I’m sorry for failing you as a role model. I promise I’m going to be better. To all my sponsors, I’m going to be a better representation of our brands. And to all my fans, I’m going to make it up to you, I promise.

“I’m spending the offseason and my suspension continuing to work on. my own mental health and decision making. I’m also going to be training so that I’m ready to go when I can be back on the court. I know my teammates are going to hold it down and I’m so sorry I won’t be out there with you at the beginning of the season.

“I hope you’ll give me the chance to prove to you over time I’m a better man than what I’ve been showing you.”

While Morant was contrite, the union that represents him, the NBPA, said the league came down far too harshly.

“Ja has expressed his remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions, and we support him unequivocally as he does whatever is necessary to represent himself, our players and our league in the best possible light,” NBPA Executive Director Tamika Tremaglio said in a statement. “As to the discipline imposed, which keeps him off the court until December and requires some unstated conditions to be met before he can return, we believe it is excessive and inappropriate for a number of reasons including the facts involved in this particular incident, and that it is not fair and consistent with past discipline in our league. We will explore with Ja all options and next steps.”

Morant and the players’ union are considering an appeal, saying 25 games is excessive, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT. The appeal would be heard by a neutral arbitrator.

If upheld on appeal, the suspension will cost Morant $7.6 million in direct salary, plus it does not help him with his personal brand and it damages endorsement deals with Nike (who somewhat slow-played the release of his signature shoe), Powerade, and others. Morant’s first suspension, eight games in March, cost him $669,000 in direct salary but was a factor in him not making an All-NBA team, which cost him $39 million in additional salary over the five years of his contract extension.

Selecting the number of games suspended was a tricky needle for Siver and the NBA to thread. Morant broke no laws, however, this is a serious image issue for the NBA that dates back decades. Tied to that, Morant is one of the faces of a new generation in the NBA, a dynamic and entertaining athlete who on the court averaged 26.2 points and 8.1 assists a game, and with that drove ticket sales and social media views for the league. Morant generates revenue for the Grizzlies and NBA, and don’t ever forget it is a business first.

The incident that led to the 25-game suspension was when Morant was seen quickly waving a gun while rapping along to a song in a car on friend Davonte Pack’s Instagram account. Morant released a statement soon after taking responsibility for his actions after the video went viral.

That came months after Morant was suspended eight games after another video of him flashing a gun while appearing intoxicated in a Denver area club, something also on Instagram Live. It led to concerns around the Grizzlies organization that Morant had lost some focus in his life and was not making “the main thing the main thing.”

After that first incident, Morant spent time away from the team to seek counseling, and met with Silver about what had happened. From the official NBA announcement of the 25-game suspension:

“Morant wielded the firearm while knowing that he was being recorded and that the recording was being live streamed on Instagram Live, despite having made commitments to the NBA and public statements that he would not repeat the conduct for which he was previously disciplined.”

Before Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Silver was asked if he had come down harder on Morant after the first incident would things have been different.

“I’ve thought about that, and Joe Dumars [VP of basketball operations with the NBA], who is here, was in the room with me when we met with Ja, and he’s known Ja longer than I have, Silver said. “For me at the time, an eight-game suspension seemed very serious, and the conversation we had, and Tamika Tremaglio from the Players Association was there, as well, felt heartfelt and serious. But I think he understood that it wasn’t about his words. It was going to be about his future conduct.

“I guess in hindsight, I don’t know. If it had been a 12-game suspension instead of an eight-game suspension, would that have mattered?”

The 25-game suspension will leave the Grizzlies without their best player and primary shot creator through the first 30% of the NBA season. How the team that was the No. 2 seed heading into the last NBA playoffs — only to be off balance after the first Morant suspension and lose to the Lakers in the first round — will handle this suspension remains to be seen.