Guns an invitation for trouble

Stern right to ask players to leave firearms home

When David Stern suggested NBA players might want to consider leaving their guns at home, the commissioner overlooked a few things.

Are nunchucks and knives still OK? Where does he stand on flammable liquids and Samurai swords? How about fireworks?

The notion of players walking around with any of these is, of course, ridiculous. But so, too, is Stern having to remind grown men to use their brains. Guns were never meant to be accessories, and toting one in public – especially to a nightclub or other alcohol-fueled spot – is nothing more than an invitation for trouble.

Unless it’s Shaquille O’Neal getting a head start on his second career in law enforcement, leave the weapons at home.

“It’s a pretty, I think, widely accepted statistic that if you carry a gun, your chances of being shot by one increase dramatically,” Stern said earlier this week during his preseason conference call. “We think this is an alarming subject. Although you’ll read players saying how they feel safer with guns, in fact those guns actually make them less safe.

“And it’s a real issue.”

And a reminder that for all the good LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have done the last two years, the NBA still has some work to do on its image.

The NBA made it through the post-Jordan era in part by marketing itself to the hip-hop generation. It was edgy cool – Allen Iverson with his checkered past and rebellious present, and high schoolers who thumbed their noses at tradition to become instant millionaires.

But then things started getting a little seamy. Kobe Bryant was accused of rape. The Americans looked more like spoiled brats than a Dream Team at the Athens Olympics. The Brawl at The Palace near Detroit made fans wonder if they should fear for their safety at a game.

Edgy had gotten out of control, and the NBA has been working overtime to clean up its image.

Having James and Wade, as impressive off the court as they are on, as the league’s newest poster boys has helped. So, too, in a small way, does something like the dress code.

But a player getting in trouble with a Glock or Beretta is going to trump a snazzy suit and a dazzling smile any day.

Many players say they have guns for protection, and Stern has no problem with keeping one in the house for safety. Never mind that an alarm system or a couple of Rottweilers would be just as effective.

The idea that anyone needs a pistol when he goes out for the evening, though, is absurd. They’re not in Colombia or the Middle East.

The NBA devotes considerable time to educating its players about the dangers of owning a firearm. Guns and the various state and federal laws are covered extensively during the five-day rookie orientation program. The topic is addressed again at meetings the league has with each team during the season. The players’ union also sends out information each season on firearm laws.

There’s even a provision in the collective-bargaining agreement that prohibits players from carrying firearms when they’re on league or team business. That means no guns in the arena, the practice facility and certainly not at a promotional appearance.

Some players still don’t get it, though.

Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson is now facing felony and misdemeanor charges after turning an Indianapolis strip club into a firing range earlier this month. Jackson fired his gun into the air at least five times after an early-morning fight outside the club Oct. 6.

Jackson, who is still on probation for his role in the Detroit melee, at first said he was acting in self-defense. Now he says he was trying to protect the three teammates who were with him. Whatever it was, it wasn’t very effective, considering he was hit by a car AFTER he fired the shots.

“While we recognize a player’s right to own one, we don’t recommend you do,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

Lumping the entire NBA in with Jackson and the rest of the Pacers who were out partying at 3 a.m. during training camp isn’t fair, but that’s how it is. The NBA is still on probation with the public, and incidents like this set the whole league back.

No one knows that better than Stern, one of the savviest commissioners around. The NBA was bordering on irrelevance when he took over, in danger of falling behind even the NHL in popularity. With a little help from Magic, Bird, and MJ, he recast the NBA’s image and made it a global force.

Now he’s got James, Wade and Tim Duncan. That’s what Stern should be talking about, not gun etiquette.

This is, after all, the NBA. Not the NRA.