NBA superstar and rising face of the association Ja Morant was suspended eight games Wednesday for “conduct detrimental to the league,” a week and a half after he appeared on a live video on his own Instagram account holding a gun in a Colorado strip club.
The NBA investigated the incident and waited for local authorities to review the matter, who ultimately closed their investigation after determining “there was not enough available evidence to charge anyone with a crime.” The NBA still had the authority to make a decision on the Memphis Grizzlies point guard’s future, eventually deciding on the suspension due to Morant “holding a firearm in an intoxicated state while visiting a Denver area nightclub.”
While not formally suspended, Morant, 23, had been away from the Grizzlies since the video went live online, and after briefly checking into a Florida counseling program, he met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday.
Silver called Morant’s conduct “irresponsible, reckless and potentially very dangerous” in a statement announcing the suspension, which will cost Morant $668,659 in salary.
The rising superstar sat down with ESPN’s Jalen Rose hours after meeting Silver, telling the former NBA player, “I take full responsibility for my actions. … It’s not who I am. … I feel like in the past we didn’t know what was at stake. And now, finally me having that time to realize everything, have that time alone, I realize that now. I realize what I have to lose, and for us as a group, what we have to lose.”
“It’s pretty much just that being more responsible, more smarter and staying away from all the bad decisions,” Morant said, adding that the gun in the video wasn’t his.
Recognizing the potential for catastrophe was a main point that Rose made when the news first dropped of Morant’s mistake. Rose, a former NBA player, hearkened back to his own young adulthood in the NBA, where he had tremendous potential, a massive weight on his shoulders as the breadwinner for his family and friends, and a forked road in front of him where he could live up to his capabilities, or squander them.
“I am Ja Morant,” Rose said. “I’ve been involved in drug raids. I’ve survived assassination attempts. I’ve been that undisciplined young person that was trying to figure out how to be famous, how to be successful, and how to change the dynamics of my family. … once you make it, your job is to uplift, to enlighten, and I’m glad this actually happened at this point of his life. The next step is now recovery.”
It wasn’t just the viral video for Morant. There were building rumors about him and his close circle’s behavior in recent months, including fighting with a 17-year-old during a pickup basketball game in his backyard, confronting a security guard at a mall after his mother called him, and a postgame confrontation with staff members of the Indiana Pacers who accused Morant’s associates of pointing a laser pointer at them after a game as a threat, the last of which prompted an NBA investigation. Neither Morant nor any of his associates were arrested or charged for any of the alleged behavior.
The recent video incident reopened discussions surrounding gun safety, particularly in the African American community and those who are seen as role models by millions. In their interview, Rose asked Morant if he takes pride in being a role model.
“I do,” Morant replied. “I realize I have a lot of kids who look up to me. Even probably some adults. I realize my past mistakes isn’t being a good role model.”
Because the suspension covers the six games he’s missed since separating from his team, Morant is eligible to return Monday against the Dallas Mavericks. However, he is not expected to play in that game because he needs time to ramp up his conditioning. The Grizzlies are 41-27 and sit third in the NBA’s Western Conference.
Before his suspension and even amid the off-the-court chaos, Morant was having a stellar season, averaging 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists per game in 53 games this year, per Basketball Reference. He was an all-star starter and was likely going to make an All-NBA team. He is the consensus best player on the Grizzlies, a young, fiery, hard-nosed team often ridiculed for talking too much trash.
Not only is Morant a high-flying dunker with supreme athleticism and a knack for getting to the rim whenever he wants, but he is also the de facto leader of the Grizzlies, a team looking to make a playoff push and contend for an NBA championship. In order to do so, they will need Morant to be at his best, a place Rose and many others are hoping he can get to.