From Budding star to Murder suspect

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We pause to consider the arc of a young life.

• In 2004 Javaris Crittenton — a sophomore and already a team captain — teams with Dwight Howard to lead Southwest Atlanta Christian to the Class A title.

• In 2006 Crittenton graduates from high school — where he’d been a 3.5 student and a member of both the Beta Club and the Future Business Leaders of America — and enrolls at Georgia Tech.

• In 2007 he exits Tech after a good-but-not great freshman season and is taken by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 19th pick of the NBA draft.

• In January 2010 he pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge resulting from the infamous guns-in-the-locker-room that involved Crittenton and Washington Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas, who on Christmas Eve engaged in an argument regarding gambling debts. Both players are suspended by the NBA for the rest of the season.

• On Aug. 26, 2011, a warrant is issued for Crittenton’s arrest. The charge: Murder.

Maybe you’re clever enough to have foreseen this path. I’m not. Yeah, I thought Crittenton was a gifted player who left school a year too soon. The same could be said of his Tech classmate Thaddeus Young, and Young has done nicely with the Philadelphia 76ers. Lots of guys leave too soon. Some of them make it anyway.

And it’s not as if warning lights flashed at every turn. Crittenton attended one high school for four years, which isn’t always the contemporary norm. He played alongside Howard, who jumped directly to the NBA and who has become one of the five best players in the world. Crittenton’s summers were spent playing AAU ball with the Atlanta Celtics, a program that boasts a long list of distinguished alums. He signed with Tech, a proud program in the high-minded ACC. He was drafted by the Lakers, the NBA’s best organization.

And yet: This gifted young player was gone from the NBA in three years, having worked his way through four organizations. He was cut last October by the Charlotte Bobcats. He played five games with a team in China and spent the winter with the Dakota Wizards, the Bismarck-based franchise in the NBA Developmental League, averaging 14.5 points and 6.7 assists.

That’s the basketball part of it. I’m not sure how much basketball has to do with this murder warrant. (And here we stipulate that Crittenton is innocent until proved guilty.) You can tut-tut and say, “Oh, it’s the system of entitlement that leads to guns in the locker room,” but I’ve hung around the NBA for more than a quarter-century and I’ve never seen a gun in a locker room.

The gun-related suspension should have been a lesson. Nineteen months later, Crittenton is wanted for allegedly having loosed the shots from an SUV that took the life of a young woman who happened to be in the line of fire. (Police believe Crittenton saw someone who’d stolen jewelry from him earlier this year.)

At such a distressing moment, it would be convenient to blame basketball for the wrong turns in Crittenton’s 23-year-old life. But there’s free will involved in every life, is there not? He has had role models. He was around successful people and winning programs. He was a good student who was thought to have leadership qualities. And he had, owing to having been a Round 1 draftee, a guaranteed contract.

Give some people those circumstances and they’d make the most of them. Crittenton has made the least. (His profile on Twitter bore this greeting: “Say hello to the bad guy!” The account was apparently deleted Friday night.) It’s never surprising when a good young player doesn’t grow into an NBA All-Star — not many do — but it is shocking when you read the AJC.comheadline, “Former Georgia Tech star wanted for fatal shooting.”

Had he stayed four years at Tech, Crittenton would have just finished his NBA rookie season. That’s not an excuse for anything, nor is it an explanation. It wasn’t some “system” that caused a young woman’s death. It was a choice made by one person to raise a gun and pull its trigger. Yes, it’s possible that person wasn’t Javaris Crittenton. The warrant does, however, bear his name.

By Mark Bradley