In anticipation of Grizzlies’ Ja Morant’s potential suspension, what are some of the worst punishments the league has handed out in the past?
Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant should receive a decision on his future soon. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the media that the NBA’s investigation into Morant’s offseason activities in which he flashed a gun in a friend’s Instagram Live video was nearing completion, but that the league wouldn’t announce its verdict until after the NBA Finals.
Morant’s incident in May marked his second strike after already being disciplined by the league for flashing a gun in a nightclub earlier this year in March. The NBA suspended him for eight games after his first offense; it’s expected that his impending suspension this time around will be much more severe.
As Grizzlies fans anxiously hold their breath awaiting the verdict, we take a look at the longest suspensions the league has dealt all-time. Some more recent suspensions have been buried but not forgotten: former Nets star Kyrie Irving missed eight games this past season after sharing anti-Semitic posts on social media. Also in the past year, Miles Bridges, Ime Udoka, and Robert Sarver received disciplinary measures for their respective actions.
Going back to as many as twenty years ago, the following suspensions make Ja Morant’s first punishment look like a slap on the wrist.
Here are the five longest suspensions in NBA history.
[UPDATE — Ja Morant was suspended for 25 games to begin the 2023-24 NBA season]
Longest suspensions in NBA history: What could Ja Morant’s future hold?
5. Javaris Crittenton (38 Games) and 4. Gilbert Arenas (50 games)
Former Washington Wizards guard Javaris Crittenton was caught red-handed along with Gilbert Arenas in a 2009 incident in which they each violated NBA rules: both were carrying and storing an unlicensed gun in their lockers.
Arenas received a 50-game suspension while Crittenton received a 38-game suspension. Whereas Arenas, an All-Star at the time, was retained on the roster, Crittenton was released by the Wizards upon his return and would never play in the league again. Even though Arenas was given a shot at redemption, his career never quite recovered from the incident and he struggled to live up to his previous All-Star form.
3. Latrell Sprewell (60 games)
Former Golden State Warriors forward Latrell Sprewell made three All-Star teams and appeared primed to enjoy a prolific career until he engaged in a fight with his own head coach in 1997.
In December of that year, Sprewell went after Warriors head coach P.J. Carlesimo during a team practice when Carleismo criticized his passing skills. Sprewell reportedly threatened, choked, and punched the coach, and to little surprise, Golden State terminated Sprewell’s contract shortly after.
Sprewell had been involved in other fights with his teammates in years prior, but his run-in with Carleismo would hand him the biggest punishment of his career, a 68-game suspension.
2. Ron Artest (86 games)
Former Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest will be remembered for quite the colorful career. On one hand, he became revered as Kobe Bryant’s beloved teammate and an elite defender during the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2010 championship run.
On the other, Artest was one of the main instigators in the “Malice at the Palace,” a frenzied on-court brawl between the Detroit Pistons and the Pacers in November 2004.
A Pistons fan threw a drink at Artest’s head during the Pistons-Pacers game, and Artest reacted by entering the stands and grabbing the fan. Artest would swing punches at other fans and even Piston players in the ensuing on-court scrum, and his rash and impulsive choices that game led the NBA to deliver a whopping 86-game suspension to Artest along with significant fines.
1. O.J. Mayo (164 games)
The NBA player who has received the harshest suspension so far is none other than a former Memphis Grizzlies star.
O.J. Mayo, the third overall pick by Memphis in the 2008 draft, had a promising career ahead of him, like the other players on this list. The shooting guard finished second to Kevin Durant for Rookie of the Year but never really lived up the expectations; Mayo was traded twice, and on his third team, he would get hit with a two-year ban from the league.
In 2016, Mayo, who was now with the Milwaukee Bucks, admitted to smoking marijuana and abusing painkiller medications, thereby violating the league’s drug policy.
This was his second drug policy violation in his career (his first earned him a 10-game suspension), and the NBA suspended him for two seasons, or 164 games. Mayo was 31 years old when he was eligible to be reinstated in the league at the start of the 2018-19 season, but he chose to start anew and went abroad instead.