By Terrance Turner
March 4, 2023
One of the NBA’s biggest stars has been suspended by the league after a string of off-the-court incidents.
On Tuesday, Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant dazzled crowds at the FedEx Forum in Tennessee. After going 3-for-14 in the first half, Morant exploded in the third quarter. He shot 10-for-12, scoring 28 points — the most ever in a quarter by a Grizzlies player.
The next day, the Washington Post published a bombshell story detailing two off-the-court incidents involving Morant in July 2022. While Morant is one of the NBA’s brightest stars, both he and those close to him have been accused of violent and threatening behavior.
Last summer, the head of security at a Memphis mall accused Morant of threatening him during an altercation in the parking lot, according to a police report obtained by the Post.
The trouble began when Morant’s mother had a dispute with an employee at a Finish Line store inside the Oak Court Mall in Memphis. (Finish Line sells sports shoes and other athletic apparel.) She called Morant, who reportedly arrived with a group of as many as nine other people.
Morant and his crew were told to leave by the mall’s head of security. They refused. A “verbal confrontation” ensued. Things escalated, and one person in Morant’s group pushed the security guard in the head. “As the group was leaving the premises […] “Ja Morant said, ‘Let me find out what time he gets off,’ ” police wrote in the report.
The head of security filed a police report, saying he felt threatened. But police made no arrests.
Four days later, Morant hosted a pickup basketball game at his Memphis home. His parents and sister were there, as was Mike Miller, a former NBA player. Also there was a 17-year-old boy who later told police he considered Morant a mentor. Police records identify the boy, but the Post did not name him because he’s a minor.
The teenager was entranced by Morant and excited to play against him: “I’m playing against an All-Star, you know?” But the trouble started when Morant and the teen “checked in” the ball. (In streetball, a player says “check” and passes the ball to the opponent guarding them. As soon as the opponent passes it back, play begins.)
According to the Post:
The teenager drew the task of guarding one of the world’s most electric scorers. When Morant threw the ball hard at the boy’s chest as he attempted to check it in, the boy threw it back just as hard. The ball “slipped through [Morant’s] hands,” the teenager said, and it hit Morant’s chin.
The teenager told police Morant then put his chin on the boy’s shoulder and asked his friend, “Do I do it to him?” The friend responded, “Yeah, do it.”
Morant then punched the boy in his jaw, the boy told police, and without warning, the friend struck him on the other side. “I fell to the ground, trying to cover my face, so I wouldn’t get hit in the face,” the boy told police. “I got, started getting hit, punched in my head, everything else.”From the Washington Post
But even after landing the first punch, Morant and his friend kept hitting the boy as he lay on the ground. “Ja hit me like 12 to 13 times,” the boy said, adding that the friend struck him four or five times. When police asked the boy how hard the punches landed, he compared them to an MMA bout.
After being pulled off the boy, Morant went inside the house, and the boy got up to leave. He told police that as he went to his car, Morant came back outside with a gun tucked into his pants. He said he saw Morant place his hand on the gun:
The boy’s mother filed a police report the day of the incident in July, and she took her son to the hospital the following day. On Aug. 8, nearly two weeks after the fight, Morant and his family filed a report of their own. In their police report, Morant and his family said they believed the teen would come back with a gun and shoot them. Morant claimed the boy had threatened to come back with a gun and “light this place up like fireworks”.
Police interviewed Morant in early September, per the Post. He admitted he “swung first” at the boy, but claimed he acted in self-defense. (He added: “The ball was the first swing to me.”) Morant told the cops the boy threw the ball at Morant’s head, trying to hit him with it, then took a step toward Morant and pulled his pants up. Morant took that as a sign that the boy was “wanting to fight.”
Aftermath and Lawsuits
The police did not confirm whether Morant had a gun or even ask him directly about it, per the Post. Morant hasn’t been charged in either incident. But in September, the teen and his mother filed a lawsuit against Morant and Davonte Pack. (According to CBS Sports, Pack is believed to be the “friend” of Morant’s who helped beat the teen up. A person familiar with the lawsuit — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was under seal — said the friend was Pack, a childhood friend of Morant’s.)
Morant avoided charges in both cases. But now he’s been suspended two games by the NBA after yet another incident that took place this morning.
At 5:19 AM, hours after the Grizzlies lost to the Denver Nuggets, Morant went live on Instagram. In a video that he appears to have recorded in a strip club, Morant raps along with music in the background. He then holds up a firearm near the side of his head.
An NBA spokesman told ESPN the league had launched an investigation. “We are aware of a social media post involving Ja Morant and are investigating,” NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said in a statement.
The Memphis Grizzles announced today that Morant “will be away from the team for at least the next two games.” That means he will not play Sunday against the LA Clippers or Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Morant reacted to the suspension with an apology. “I take full responsibility for my actions last night,” he said in a statement. “I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.”