Auburn Hills — Marvin "Bad News" Barnes played for Pistons teams in the early 1970s nicknamed the "Detroit Hoodlums" because at least four players routinely brought guns into the dressing room for protection.
They weren't afraid of teammates, but wanted to protect themselves from the streets of downtown Detroit, which had a bad reputation for crime.
Barnes told aol.com he carried an unregistered .45-caliber pistol and .38 snub-nosed revolver.
"If the .45 jammed, I would have the .38 as backup," he said. "It was automatic."
The days involving athletes with guns is back in the news in the NBA, thanks to Wizards star Gilbert Arenas. But current Pistons say the Wild West days Barnes described don't exist. They are calling the news involving Arenas an isolated and unfortunate incident created by a player more interested in pulling pranks than a gun.
"I don't think it's a league issue," Pistons center Kwame Brown said. "It's one isolated situation. If it happened more than one time, I guess it would be a league issue, but it hasn't."
The Pistons play the Wizards tonight in Washington, but Arenas won't be in the building because he was indefinitely suspended by commissioner David Stern for carrying four unloaded guns into the dressing room, a violation of league rules. He faces felony gun charges that could land him in jail for up to 10 years.
The NBA bans weapons on league property, which includes arenas, practice facilities and any related event or appearance.
Arenas' teammate Javaris Crittenton also could face charges as police investigate the incident.
"It is a world issue," Pistons center Ben Wallace said. " This is a country that gives you the right to bear arms, but you got to go through the process to do so. We get scrutinized a little bit more (because we're in the limelight), so we got to do a better job of policing ourselves."
Arenas, others break rules
That, however, is the question: How does the league police this issue?
Most Pistons players said they have permits to possess weapons, but mostly keep them at home for protection.
Not everyone, however, abides by those rules. Some isolated gun incidents have hurt the league's image:
Cavaliers guard Delonte West was pulled over in September for speeding on his motorcycle. He was carrying two loaded handguns, a loaded shotgun and a bowie knife.
Pacers guard Stephen Jackson was suspended seven games after he fired five shots into the air during a 2002 incident outside an Indianapolis night club.
In 2006, Blazers guard Sebastian Telfair was suspended two games for attempting to board a team plane in Boston with a loaded gun in his luggage. He claimed he grabbed the wrong bag and that the gun belonged to his girlfriend . No charges were filed.
In 2007, Telfair was docked three games when police found a loaded weapon in his car.
In 2002, Warriors forward Chris Mills attempted to block the Blazers team bus with his vehicle after a fight with Bonzi Wells. Witnesses said Mills was carrying a weapon.
"It's always something," current Pistons commentator and former Bad Boy Rick Mahorn said of the NBA's perception. "In the 80s, we were a drug league. But you have to be professional at all times, you can't be half-in, half-out."
And that leads to Arenas.
The recent incident started over gambling on a team flight from Phoenix to Washington. According to witnesses, Crittenton and JaVale McGee were playing a card game and Crittenton complained about some of the rules and losing $1,100.
Arenas stepped in and made fun of Crittenton. During the ensuing argument, Arenas allegedly threatened to blow up Crittenton's car, and Crittenton said he was going to shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee.
Two days later, Arenas reportedly brought four unloaded guns into the dressing room and left a note saying, "If you want to shoot me, I thought I would make it easier for you."
Crittenton reportedly said he had a gun of his own.
Arenas made light of the situation, but drew Stern's wrath when he pretended to riddle a pregame huddle in Philadelphia with gunfire.
He was suspended without pay the next day.
"It's an unfortunate situation," Pistons guard Will Bynum said. "Gilbert is a prankster. That has always been Gilbert. It was the same at the University of Arizona. ... He likes to have fun and there is nothing violent about him."
Some Pistons have guns
Each league (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) bans its players from bringing firearms to facilities.
Still, the bigger concern for the NBA is perception.
Nets guard Devin Harris claimed last month that at least 70 percent of NBA players owned guns. He since has backed off the claim, saying he did not know the percentages.
But, at least five Pistons admitted to having gun permits.
Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey said he has no problem with the punishment handed to Arenas, but cautions the league against punishing all players.
"They are doing what they need to do," he said. "Whatever happens, happens. It will be the right thing."
He also said he has never seen a teammate carry a gun.
"The teammates I have, we don't do that kind of stuff," he said. "I don't know what goes on in other locker rooms, but we don't allow that stuff here."
Added teammate Charlie Villanueva: "We are family. I don't need a gun to protect myself from my family."
Pistons assistant Darrell Walker, who played in the NBA from 1984-93, said guns rarely were discussed in the locker room during his days.
"I'm terrified of guns, I've never had one," he said. "Maybe they had them (when I played), but I never saw them."
Walker said he encourages players to protect themselves, but there's a fine line between protection and inviting danger.
"I tell them to make sure the guns are registered where they live," Walker said. "You have to hide it, keep it away from your kids. Some guys just feel more secure with one."
The NBA tries to help incoming players deal with the radical change in attention and lifestyle, and even conducts a rookie symposium after the draft.
It deals with everything, from how to manage your money, to dealing with women and weapon safety.
Pistons rookie DaJuan Summers attended the mandatory symposium. And while he thinks most guys have weapons, it's more for protection.
"It's very hard for people to understand the life we live," said Summers, a Baltimore native. "They think we're moguls. People see us and they think we just play the game, go home and then everything's cool. It's not like that."
Always bad actors
Still, other NBA players believe with guns comes major responsibility.
And not only from the standpoint of being an athlete.
"Yes, we are athletes, but don't treat us any differently than anybody else," said Brown, who added he has owned a weapon for nine years. "We are private citizens. I have a gun. I have proper paperwork and I keep it safe.
"I think everybody would do a lot better if they stopped characterizing us as NBA players and realize we are human beings. We are like everybody else. It's like if you own a gun, be responsible. If you are going to drink, then drink responsibly."
Villanueva said he doesn't see the need to carry a gun.
"I have a BB gun," he joked. "Does that count?"
He added: "I know where to go and where not to go. Some guys feel like they got to carry one. You see many stories where guys get robbed and everybody gets paranoid. I have been blessed enough where I have not had contact like that."
76ers forward Andre Iguodala believes players don't get the credit they deserve in being responsible, especially when they've encountered situations most could never dream of.
"We have to work very hard to get to this level," he said. "You have to have some level of (common) sense to get here. A lot of people don't understand that."
Iguodala, in the NBA since 2004, said while race might play a role, players must deal with it. He pointed out that Bernard Madoff didn't make every businessman a money-laundering criminal, so why are the standards different for NBA players?
"I joke with my white teammates a lot that they can get away with things we can't," Iguodala said. "We live by different standards. We get all this money. I think a lot of players understand that, as African-Americans, we have to act accordingly."Comment on this story
Said Aaron McKie, now an assistant for the 76ers and former Pistons player: "I tell people the NBA has a bunch of great guys. You're going to have a few knuckleheads. You can go into corporate America and find a few knuckleheads."
Players say increased exposure, as well as the public knowing how much they make, creates vulnerability.
Pistons guard Ben Gordon says there are alternatives to carrying guns, although he understands the reasoning for those that do.
"I think there are guys who are responsible, but there's a handful that aren't, who think it's cool to have one just to have one," he said. "There are other ways to protect yourself other than having a firearm. You can have security."