Everyone's always loved Gilbert Arenas in Washington DC, and I loved him more than just about anyone. At SB Nation's offices, the only thing sitting on my desk is a Gilbert Arenas bobblehead. When I left for college, I hung an authentic Gilbert Arenas jersey on my walls. I would take it down so that I could wear it for particularly big games, and then I'd carefully tack it back to the walls afterward. I read each of his blog posts three and four times over, just because. I probably have 10 different pairs of his Adidas shoes. This past summer, when my family got a new puppy, I insisted we name him Gilbert.
So you can imagine: This is hard. But the Wizards need to get rid of Gilbert Arenas. He's not the same player he used to be, and he's not the same person.
Truth be told, we've always romanticized him just a little bit more than we should. All fans do this to superstars, but with Gilbert it was more exaggerated. Because like I explained in The Rise of Gilbert Arenas, in the wake Michael Jordan's disastrous turn in D.C., Washington was desperate for someone to play hero. And as long as we could overlook some obvious warning signs, Gilbert Arenas fit the role perfectly.
Then this happened, and everything changed:
Some may point to the still-evolving gun controversy this past week (we'll get to that) as a tipping point during Arenas' tenure in Washington, but if we're being honest, nothing was ever the same after the injury above. The fairy tale for Arenas ended right then and there.
I remember watching that game on a tiny television in my kitchen, and the second it happened and Gilbert went down in a heap, I turned off the TV, went to a movie, and tried not to think about sports until the next day. I'd seen enough to suspect the worst, and as it turned out, I was right. Arenas missed the rest of 2007, and most of the '08 season, as well. And maybe just as damaging, he stopped being the invincible superhero that everyone had created in Washington.
Almost like when you reach a certain age and realize that your parents aren't perfect. You start to think back to some childhood memories, and realize that things weren't always as flawless as you remembered. It doesn't cheapen the experiences, or your memories of them, but... as you move forward and get older, you're more discerning when it comes to dealing with your parents. Maybe they're not always wrong, but you no longer assume they're always right.
That's what happened when Gilbert got injured. The Wizards weren't necessarily better without him, but there was a chance they were. Gilbert was no longer invincible, or the foregone conclusion as the future of the Washington Wizards--and if you think back, maybe he never was. Once Wizards fans allow that Gilbert might not be the answer, everything comes into question.
There was that Game 6 against the Cavs in 2006, when Gilbert Arenas hit a 30 foot shot to send the game to overtime. Unbelievable. But then, at the end of overtime, Lebron James psyched him out in front of a national TV audience, and he missed two free throws that ultimately got the Wizards knocked out of the playoffs. A true superstar makes those free throws. It was indicative of his tendency to play tight when he cared most. In the Olympic trials for Team USA, in the first quarter of big playoff games, in oh.... just about every game he's played since that knee injury. And when he's not tight, he's too loose. At first his immaturity was charming and playful, but more and more, it seems pathological. That affects a team.
When 2008 brought a surprising Wizards run that saw Caron Butler emerge as a cornerstone and Antawn Jamison an All-Star, the team arrived at a crossroads. Gamble max money on the superstar guard that revived your franchise but had been injured for the past 18 months, or start from scratch, and build a team around the likes of Butler and Jamison? Ultimately, the team went with Arenas. Not because it was necessarily the smartest play, but because it was the right thing to do. Gilbert Arenas saved pro basketball in this city, and in the process, earned the benefit of the doubt. (Note: "benefit of the doubt" roughly translates to $111 million).
It was a pretty reckless gamble, but sometimes you gotta go with the one that got you there.
That was Abe Pollin's attitude, anyway. And Pollin, a man whose legacy was staked on his opposition to guns and his loyalty to people like Arenas, deserved so much better than what Arenas has given this franchise since signing that deal, particularly this season. He's been awful, and while some of it has to do with his injury and understandably damaged psyche, it's killing the team.
Like a black cloud, Arenas' presence has haunted the Wizards all year long. Because he's the STAR, you see. And in the NBA, that means your teammates defer to you at countless points throughout the game. Except... He's not a star anymore. It's probably most obvious -- and painful -- on those possessions at the end of quarters and games, when his teammate clear out so that Gil can attack, and he either flails toward the hoop expecting a call (that he doesn't get), or takes a pull-up three (that he doesn't make). Literally. This happens every single game. Just like the Kiss Cam, you can count on at least one end-of-quarter possession where Gilbert fails miserably, and then walks off the court while the fans awkwardly pretend not to notice.
The only successful end of quarter situations I can remember from Gil this year came on two separate occasions, when he launched halfcourt shots that went in. As a general rule: When your highest percentage end of quarter play is a halfcourt shot, you will not be a good team.
There's also those bizarre stretches when he goes into "point guard" mode and refuses to attack the basket for quarters-at-a-time. Or those stretches when he goes into "scorer mode" and refuses to acknowledge his teammates. He's not a scoring point guard or a passing shooting guard; he's full-on bi-polar on the basketball court, and his teammates (or coaches) never know what they're going to get. You can't quantify the effect that has on this team; everyone's been forced to defer to a "star player" that doesn't have the skills of a superstar anymore.
That's taxing on the court, sure, but it's also terrible for morale. For fans and players alike, it takes a lot of emotional energy to ignore reality; and at this point, just about everyone's disillusioned in Washington.
But just when you thought the Wizards would be hamstrung by Arenas' contract for years, now we have this gun incident. The ultimate proof that his $111 million contract was a failure of historic proportions; and maybe, something that'll allow the Wizards to void that same contract. The details in this gun story are still unclear, and given the insular nature of NBA locker rooms, we may never know what happened between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittendon on December 21st.
But regardless of what happened, Gilbert's turn as franchise player is done, and David Stern will likely suspend him for most of the remaining season. And -- everybody cross their fingers now -- if Gilbert's charged with a crime, there's a good chance the Wizards will void his contract. From Mike Jones, the excellent
Washington Times freelance Wizards writer who's been all over this story so far:
If ... [Arenas] receives a felony charge, the maximum punishment is a five-year prison term and/or a $5,000 fine. If that happened, the Wizards would execute the "morality clause" in Arenas' contract -- every player's contract has this -- and they would get the remaining three years, $67.7 million owed to him off their books.
IF Arenas gets charged with a felony, he's gone. Simple and plain. What's more bizarre? Wizards fans should be rooting for this. It'd give the Wizards tons of cap room, and after the Arenas revival's been proven an unmitigated failure, they can start from scratch. So now, strange as it feels, Wizards fans should be rooting for Arenas, the most popular athlete of the past decade in this town, to get charged with a felony.
Has it really come to this? Yes, yes it has. And remember: my dog is named Gilbert.
None of this is because of the gun story, mind you. Whatever happened there was probably more a function of Gilbert's madness than any real malice. A disgrace to Abe Pollin? Of course. A violation of D.C. law? Probably. But not a crime where there was any real evil involved. This was more ignorance. That it could give the Wizards a Free Pass on Arenas' atrocious contract is a lucky twist of fate for a franchise that absolutely deserves it. But it's not why the Wizards should get rid of Gilbert Arenas.
More telling, in fact, has been Arenas' suddenly active Twitter feed. Keep in mind: this is a player who rose to international renown thanks in large part to new media. His blog -- candid, witty, and shockingly insightful -- won him admirers all throughout the DC area and indeed, the whole world. His entry about his visit to the Phillipenes illustrates as much.
Except that Gilbert wasn't writing that blog. He had a ghost writer named Dave Mcmenamin who he'd recite his entries to, and then Mcmenamin would transcribe them for NBA.com. Essentially, he was the filter between Arenas and the millions of followers who would come to fawn over him for what was written. Which Dave Mcmenamin was writing.
On Twitter, though, we get Gil unfiltered. And the result is a little... different (sic, sic, sic):
i know i said i wouldnt text til i get a mil..but shit this is takin 4ever...Happy New Years...ps who do i hav 2 sleep with 2 get a mil
if one more person ask me where the club is..im gonna cry..becuz im stuck at hm with 3 kids..and a girlfriend who still looks pregnant lmao
yea i guess ur right men with kids party a diff way on new years...it usually starts and ends with the (jergens natural lotion) bottle
who wants to hav sex with there GF on new years..LMAO..every man wants to start the new years fresh..and off to a new start...jk..
i wake up this morning and seen i was the new JOHN WAYNE..lmao media is too funny
i guess nobody thought that last text was funny.well i hav 2 change subjects.umM what about that TIGER WOODS.i heard he dated 2 MIDGETS jk
And those were just some highlights from his first 24 hours he was on Twitter. Last night, he told a bunch of off-color jokes about midgets and pregnant women. Or something.
Some of it's funny, but most of it's muddled with a confusion of angst and immaturity. This isn't the witty, worldly Gil everybody got to know on his blog. It's a painful performance from someone that's desperate to make us laugh, but isn't very funny. It may seem unrelated to Gilbert Arenas as a player, but it's indicative of the gulf between who fans once worshipped, and who he really is.
Just the way NBA.com sanitized Gilbert Arenas for the sake of mass consumption, Wizards fans overlooked holes in his game and character that -- for the longterm, at least -- made him fatally flawed as a face of the franchise. Now, with bad knees having rendered those flaws obvious, and this gun situation taking his immaturity to what was maybe an inevitable end, it's all crumbling. There's no more invincibility. No Hibachi. No Agent Zero.
Just @gilbertarenas -- kind of making a fool of himself, immature to the bitter end -- and a franchise hoping that fate (and the DC District Attorney's office) might give them a mulligan on this one.