According to many reporters, NBA star Ja Morant’s behavior has been worsening, with multiple gun incidents and claimed physical altercations. One of these events led to a civil lawsuit that is still going on.
So far as we know, Morant was suspended for eight games after being caught on camera on Instagram Live holding what looked like a gun in a bar in the Denver area in early March. Shortly after that, Morant was caught on camera again looking like he had a gun in his hand while riding in a car with friends. He was given a 25-game ban that he will start this upcoming season, costing him almost $8 million in lost pay.
I’m not sure if the Memphis Grizzlies knew about or were worried about Morant’s behavior and if they were quick to deal with it before it was too late.
Additionally, Baxter Holmes and Tim MacMahon released a detailed report on Wednesday that includes this new information. The report suggests that the Grizzlies noticed a negative shift in Morant’s behavior almost as soon as he joined the NBA but did nothing to address it.
But some warning signs emerged early in his pandemic-shortened rookie season. Team sources said there were concerns about how frequently Morant, underage and often accompanied by his father, would go out drinking, and at some of Memphis’ seedier establishments and strip clubs, including on nights before games.
Throughout that 2021-22 season, during which Morant was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, a pattern emerged whenever the Grizzlies traveled. After landing, a Sprinter Van would often be waiting at the team hotel to shuttle Morant out for the evening with friends and family, whom he had flown into that city on a private jet, according to team sources. Morant would cover their lodging and foot the bill at establishments they visited. In some instances, team sources said, it wasn’t unusual for Morant to appear hungover, or to be late to team events the next day.
“There was no discipline,” another Grizzlies source said. “They felt like they could do anything they wanted. In my opinion, the enabling was out of control. Just constant. Definitely s— was swept under the rug.”
Morant was still on a rookie deal at this point. By any measure, he was wealthy but not too rich. That changed in 2022 when Morant got a $194M five-year deal after being named an All-Star starter.
But it wasn’t just the Grizzlies who saw Morant change. It was the people in Memphis. One business owner remembered when Morant and his group threatened a customer’s life with whom they fought.
Around that same time, some in Memphis noticed a change in Morant. “He went from being a nice guy to every time you look up, the kid was always into it with somebody,” said one of the Memphis business owners whose establishments Morant had visited frequently. “A staff member, security, always wanting it his way. It’s just so much. I can’t say all of it. It just went bad, bro — like the way he carried himself. First, he told me he was coming with his best friend. The next thing, he started coming with an entourage. The next thing, he’s got a platinum grill in his mouth. The next thing, he’s into it with parking lot security because they won’t let him park somewhere.”
The second Memphis business owner said they’ve hosted just about every big name NBA player one could imagine. Yet, he said, Morant and his entourage became so challenging that, for the first time, the staff “hated” to see Morant and his group walk through the door. That businessperson recalled witnessing a verbal altercation where Morant and his associates “had gotten very disrespectful to a man’s wife. It got so bad that they actually started to threaten each other’s lives.”
The following incident happened in July 2022 at a mall in Memphis. Morant is said to have threatened a shoe seller who had gotten into a fight with Morant’s mother. ESPN says that the head of security at the mall also said that Morant threatened and hit him in the parking lot after the fight with the seller.
After less than a week, “Morant and a friend are said to have hit a 17-year-old.” A civil claim against Morant is still going on because of that event.
Witnesses say that after Morant’s sister fought at a high school volleyball game in September 2022, some of his friends showed up with him and threatened a student.
On January 29, 2023, per ESPN, “a postgame confrontation between acquaintances of Morant’s and members of the Indiana Pacers traveling party had led the Pacers to allege a red laser, perhaps attached to a gun, had been pointed at them from an SUV Morant was in.”
These four incidents happened over six months before Morant was seen flashing a gun more than once. Finally, after the red-laser incident in Indiana, Grizzlies general manager Zach Kleiman and head coach Taylor Jenkins confronted Morant. According to ESPN, they told him he was “f—ing up.”
The Grizzlies had tried sending this message before. One league insider said Morant had been told cautionary tales about Steve Francis and Allen Iverson, legendary players whose off-court actions at times distracted from their talent and limited their NBA longevity.
“The message just wasn’t getting through,” said a former NBA player who said he’s also tried to talk to Morant on several occasions. “He just wasn’t in a place to hear anything.”
Before his conduct began to threaten his availability, the Grizzlies had sought to avoid friction, in part because Morant was playing at an All-NBA level, and the Grizzlies were still winning.
That justification — according to interviews with Grizzlies staffers and sources close to the team — was often used when Morant’s private life spilled into public view.
To put it another way, Morant and the Grizzlies were very good. It’s an old story that an athlete can get away with a lot more on stage. According to ESPN’s story, Morant looked at Kleiman and Jenkins after they talked and “expressed disinterest — then apathy.” This suggests that Morant knew what was going on.
Morant’s agent says it’s “grossly inaccurate to say that Ja’s response to any meetings with the Grizzlies has ever been dismissive.” This means Morant should have taken the talk more seriously.
No matter what, Morant didn’t change his behavior after getting the message. The two Instagram gun events made things worse.
The Grizzlies may have done the bare minimum to try to get in touch with Morant without ruining the basketball mood and steer him back in the right way, but they never punished him. In the beginning, the NBA had to punish him by suspending him for eight games. Now, he will miss 25 games to start the season.
“When you have a superstar, you make a deal with the devil,” an ESPN source from the team said. “You sign up for them and everything that comes with them.”