Gilbert Arenas has always seemed like such a likable, fun-loving guy, one who not only loves to play the game of basketball but is pretty darned good at it, too.

But what he was thinking — OK, he obviously wasn't — when he recently brought a fistful of firearms into the Washington Wizards' locker room defies all logic.

Maybe it was, as Arena claims, just a practical joke gone terribly wrong. Perhaps he thought he needed them to protect himself from teammate Javaris Crittenton after they got into an argument over a gambling debt.

Whatever his reason, it went far beyond stupid — words like mindless, asinine and idiotic come to mind.

I mean really, come on now. By a show of hands, other than law enforcement, security or military personnel, how many of us have ever felt the need to bring a handgun with us to our workplace?

Yeah, me neither.

Then, after his bizarre "are you kidding me?" locker room confrontation with Crittenton on Christmas Eve, Arenas made matters worse a few days later by playfully pointing his fingers at teammates, pretending to shoot them, during the Wizards' pregame introductions.

NBA commissioner David Stern was not amused and subsequently suspended Arenas indefinitely.

Stern's swift punishment, which will cost Arenas $147,000 for every game he misses, was warranted because Arenas' actions speak to a problem that is becoming increasing relevant in professional sports nowadays.

Why is it that athletes feel the need to be "packing heat" with them all the time? Is it a sign of paranoia, or of insecurity? Does their wealth and fame make these young millionaires feel they must protect themselves from those in our society who might try to rob them or cause them harm? After all, former NFL defensive back Sean Taylor lost his life when would-be thieves broke into his home and fatally shot him in 2007.

Or, as much as I hate to say it, is this simply the thug, "gangsta" mentality that seems to have pervaded the world of entertainment and professional sports?

There are far too many examples of stupid jock tricks.

Former NFL wide receiver Plaxico Burress is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for carrying a gun into a New York nightclub, where he accidentally shot himself in the leg in November 2008.

Former NBA player Jayson Williams, his playing days cut short by injuries, seemed to have a promising career in broadcasting ahead of him before he accidentally killed a limousine driver with a shotgun blast to the chest in Williams' mansion in 2002. Williams' life has been turned upside down ever since.

The list of professional athletes and entertainers who get themselves in trouble — or get themselves or someone else killed — messing around with guns is a sad commentary on what wealth and fame do to people sometimes.

Now, Arenas' name has been placed prominently on that list. And, sadly, he won't be the last one, either.

When will they ever learn? Too often, athletes who have reached the pinnacle of their sport destroy their careers — and possibly their futures, their lives or the lives of others — by getting involved in criminal-like activity.

The future of Arenas — a three-time All-Star selection — is certainly in doubt now.

A few days ago, a huge cloth banner with Arenas' picture on it was taken down from the Verizon Center. Along with Arenas' large likeness were the words: "Character. Commitment. Connection."

Sadly enough, it seems like those tremendous qualities are sorely lacking in far too many athletes these days.

e-mail: rhollis@!