Is Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension for flashing a gun fair if he has not been charged with a crime?

During his annual state-of-the-league address before the NBA Finals, commissioner Adam Silver said his office “uncovered a fair amount of additional information” regarding Ja Morant’s most recent gun-related incident, leading many to believe the Memphis Grizzlies star’s latest suspension could be highly punitive.

So, when the NBA announced a 25-game ban of Morant, plus “certain conditions” for a subsequent return, it was notable that the statement did not include anything beyond what was clear already. He brandished a gun on Instagram Live, repeating the same behavior that earned him an eight-game suspension in March.

On one hand, it does seem like Morant needs more time to reflect on his actions than the few days he spent in a Florida counseling program. Around his last suspension, Morant conceded he needed to “work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being” and felt “pretty much numb to everything now.” The eight-game ban coincided with reports from The Washington Post and The Athletic that uncovered three more allegations, including unconfirmed accusations of assault and multiple gun threats.

On the other hand, this 25-game suspension feels … odd?

Currently, Morant is not subject publicly to any criminal charges, and his suspension falls under a broad “conduct detrimental to the league” umbrella.

The collective bargaining agreement restricts players from possessing guns “at a facility or venue owned, operated or being used by a team, the NBA or any league-related entity, and whenever a player is traveling on any NBA-related business.” Morant was “leaving a social gathering in Memphis” when he “intentionally and prominently displayed a gun while in a car with several other individuals,” per the league’s statement.

Ja Morant was suspended for 25 games to begin the 2023-24 NBA season after a second incident involving flashing a gun on social media. (Justin Ford/Getty Images)

Ja Morant was suspended for 25 games to begin the 2023-24 NBA season after a second incident involving flashing a gun on social media. (Justin Ford/Getty Images)

The agreement between the NBA and its players’ union requires “a license or registration as required by law for any such firearm.” According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “Tennessee does not require a permit to carry an openly or concealed handgun in public.” Laws pertaining to guns inside parked cars, where Morant appeared to flash one, are murkier, but the state reportedly has no specific brandishing laws, and “Tennessee also expressly allows a person to carry any firearm, loaded or unloaded, in a lawfully possessed motor vehicle or boat if he or she is not prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm.”

Based on that, Morant has not violated that specific league policy nor has he broken an established law. The NBA found his conduct problematic enough to issue two suspensions, though. As Silver’s statement said, “The potential for other young people to emulate Ja’s conduct is particularly concerning.”

Still, there is an absence of specifics in this instance, especially considering the “additional information” Silver alluded to before the Finals. If the NBA wants to outlaw gun ownership among employees, it should. If not, it will have to answer to the players’ association.

Malik Beasley, then a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, was suspended just 12 games in February 2021, when he was sentenced to serve 120 days in jail between NBA seasons for pleading guilty to a felony charge of making violent threats. He allegedly pointed a gun at a family parked outside his house. The couple and their 13-year-old child were reportedly in search of a home to buy in Beasley’s neighborhood.

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson was suspended 30 games in 2004 for entering the stands and punching a fan in defense of Indiana Pacers teammate Ron Artest. Jackson’s ban for firing a gun outside a nightclub in 2007 was just seven games. The commissioner then was David Stern, but the NBA’s policies for doling out punishment have always been difficult to decipher. Compare Morant’s suspension to the 30 games free-agent forward Miles Bridges just received for pleading no contest to a felony domestic violence charge (albeit following a year in which he was not signed as a direct result of his alleged criminal behavior).

Morant brandished a gun on camera. There is no easy answer for how he should have to answer for that.

Another aspect of Morant’s suspension appears to be that he has repeated this offense. When Morant wielded a firearm on Instagram Live from a Colorado strip club in March, Silver said the All-NBA guard “made it clear to me that he has learned from this incident and that he understands his obligations and responsibility to the Memphis Grizzlies and the broader NBA community.” Morant broke that trust in May.

As Silver said Friday, “Ja Morant’s decision to once again wield a firearm on social media is alarming and disconcerting given his similar conduct in March for which he was already suspended eight games.” The statement continued, “Prior to his return to play, he will be required to formulate and fulfill a program with the league that directly addresses the circumstances that led him to repeat this destructive behavior.”

The players’ union countered with a strong rebuke of how the league seems to be policing behavior of unionized employees outside work that the actual police will not.

“As to the discipline imposed, which keeps [Morant] off the court until December and requires some unstated conditions to be met before he can return, we believe it is excessive and inappropriate for a number of reasons including the facts involved in this particular incident, and that it is not fair and consistent with past discipline in our league,” NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio said in a statement Friday. “We will explore with Ja all options and next steps.”

Morant offered no indication that he intended to appeal the suspension in his own statement Friday. He apologized to the league, the Grizzlies, his fans and sponsors, adding, “I hope you’ll give me the chance to prove to you over time I’m a better man than what I’ve been showing you.” He has made similar statements before and broken the same promise. He may well let the NBPA debate the morality of that on his behalf.

Does the NBA think it can punish someone into being a better man? Should the NBA be in the business of prioritizing the righteousness of its players? Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green faced no penalty from the league for punching teammate Jordan Poole in the face at a team facility. If a 25-game suspension results in Morant’s improved well-being, all the better, but that’s another matter entirely.