Gilbert Arenas has been called a lot of contradictory things over the
course of his career;
An All-Star. A waste of talent. Entertaining prankster. Distraction to
the team. A fan who understands the privileged position he is in. A
player who has forgotten his responsibilities.
The Perception Of Gilbert Arenas:
The most accurate description of Arenas is ‘scrutinized’. The
frequency with which Arenas is examined, analysed and criticised is
unreal and the fact that he is yet to wave the white flag in surrender
speaks volumes about his resiliency.
Instead of folding under pressure like many would, he simply takes it
all in his stride even though he is constantly reminded of his
previous decisions whenever his time in the NBA is discussed.
People conclude that because of his career altering knee injuries (1),
questionable decisions surrounding his rehabilitation (2), the guns in
the locker room and the falsities relating to a pre-season DNP (all of
which have been greatly publicised), as well as some of his ‘close to
the bone’ comments on Twitter, Arenas should be the newest addition
into the Hall of Shame for sports stars – a home for athletes who have
seemingly had the world at their feet but through a series of bad
decisions, sabotaged their careers. (See: Michael Vick, Mike Tyson,
And unsurprisingly, it’s those critics whose voices get even louder
when Arenas’ enormous contract is mentioned:
$111million for his services which, as of writing, averaged out during
his time in Orlando at 8 ppg on .344 FG% and his all time lowest 3P%,
2.4 rpg and 3.2 apg. Hardly setting the world alight, is it?*
The majority of what we know about Arenas comes through the media and
as a result of that, opinions are formed by whatever is shouted about
the loudest and the longest, which for Arenas, tends to be negative.
“Gilbert Arenas is too rich so buys a shark tank” (3)
“Gilbert Arenas got served child support and custody papers during
half time of a regular season NBA game” (4)
“Arenas laughs in the face of his gun trial by immaturely performing a
‘finger gun dance’ before a game” (5)
Despite the increasing pressure on Arenas to keep a low profile and to
conform to Commissioner Stern and society’s way, it’s unlikely Gilbert
will ever stop being Gilbert.
In a league dominated by athletes who are so acutely aware of image
that instead of being themselves they adopt a generic persona and hide
behind the façade of being wholesome, he is a breathe of fresh air.
Arenas not only breaks the mold created by others, he smashes it. He
says what’s on his mind, he plays the game the only way he knows how
and he does it all by being himself.
But as suggested by the polarizing views of Arenas, being ‘himself’ is
a double edged sword.
For every one fan who idolises Arenas and enjoys his charisma and
candidness, there are two detractors who will use the fact that Arenas
wears his heart on his sleeve against him.
Case in point: (6)
October 12, 2010
Wizards – Hawks pre-season game in the Verizon Centre in Washington
On the day Arenas is due to make his return to action after a lengthy
lay-off brought about by his firearm folly, he doesn’t suit up.
Instead he registers a ‘Did not play’ brought about because he claims
to be carrying an injury. Later on he tells the media that he sat out
in order to let his understudy, Nick Young, register some minutes on
the floor before eventually confessing that his previous reasons for
not playing were lies and that the real reason he didn’t want to step
onto the court to play the game he loves so dearly, was because he was
scared of being booed by the home fans.
Look at that again: Gilbert Arenas was crucial in making the DC club
relevant again and key in getting the team out of the first round of
the play-offs for the first time since the ’81-’82 season.
The Washington faithful were enamoured with Arenas thanks to his
off-court antics and on-court heroics and he quickly became the face
of the franchise. He was drawing more attention to the team and adding
more highlights to the Sportscenter reel than fans had seen in years
and yet, in an almost meaningless pre-season game, he was too scared
to take to the floor through fear of being hated by the very same fans
who had once idolised him and whose applause he had once bathed in.
The years of hard work Arenas had put in while in a Wizards uniform
were about to be wiped out in an instant. That doesn’t sound fair.
But that’s something Arenas is use to: He’s never been treated fairly.
On the court his perceived inability to run a team and style of play
led to him being branded ‘selfish’, despite making marked improvements
after his rookie campaign. (7) And the harsh remarks relating to his
behaviour away from the hardwood were similarly cutting even though
onlookers were encouraging him to continue being himself. For a
28-year-old who has been described as ‘fragile’ by his own father,
experiencing that must have been painful.
The DNP incident was the last in a long line of perceived
misdemeanours by Gilbert and due to the poor image he was now
projecting, the Wizards wanted no more to do with their former
On December 18, 2010, few were surprised when it was announced that
the Washington Wizards had traded their once golden child to the
Orlando Magic. And less than a year later Gilbert has found himself
out in the cold again as the Magic released him into free agency using
the CBA’s new ‘amnesty clause’.
The Real Gilbert Arenas:
Abandoned by the team he gave everything for, weighed down by an
enormous contract, confined to limited minutes on the floor and
receiving criticism from almost every corner, Gilbert Arenas now faces
an obscene amount of obstacles if he is to rescue a career which at
one stage looked to place him in the upper echelon of NBA stars. Many
doubt he can complete a comeback of that size but don’t be so certain
that he can’t.
For Arenas, the circumstances are familiar. The details may be
different but the task that Arenas faces is the same – disbelievers
polluting the air with talk of failure and reason to show the
naysayers wrong is something Arenas knows all about.This is what Gil
has faced his whole career…scratch that…his whole LIFE. The
negative arena that he now finds himself in would eat most people
alive but for the man who has dedicated his career to proving that
‘Impossible is Nothing’ , it’s no more than just another challenge. An
opportunity to prove himself once again.
Although it’s unlikely he will have ever have the plethora of fans who
once had his back, those that do stand up in his defence will do so
because they understand that there is more to Arenas than his well
crafted game and engaging personality. Behind the eccentric exterior
of Arenas is a man who is unlike most NBA stars – he is relatable.
During the 2007 NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas, Arenas saw a line of
Elvis Presley lookalikes performing dunks off of trampolines during a
time out. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, he picked up a ball
jogged towards the trampoline before exploding for a
through-the-legs-windmill jam which delighted his team mates.
In 2008, Arenas was at a press conference held by EA Sports in order
to announce that he was the cover star for their annual NBA Live game.
Watch the video and count how many seconds Arenas doesn’t have a
beaming smile plastered across his face.
The answer is zero.
His unbridled joy tells you how happy he is to be himself and how
happy he is to be in that situation. Those simple, almost childish
pleasures, show you yet another side of who Gil really is. He’s not
such a bad man after all, is he?
Arenas is someone whose game is as exceptional as the circumstances he
finds himself in but rather than being aloof and hiding behind his
money, Gilbert does the opposite and opens his arms to those around
Little is known about Arenas’ unbelievable generosity but if you look
hard enough, proof of it exists. The competition he runs via his
Twitter account (8) to give away his game worn shoes for free has been
well publicised but that is only the most recent in a long line of
acts of kindness, acts that have included providing children of tragic
events with memories and experiences that they will never forget,
being a big brother to those very same children and checking in on
them to see how they’re doing, donating (9) money regularly to
schools, including local workmen in his impromptu Paintball fight,
giving away free jerseys… the list could go on but these are the
occasions that are barely reported, even though these are the
occasions that should define how Arenas is thought of.**
Former NBA player, analyst and current NBA coach, Doug Collins, said
‘That’s why he’s Gilbert’ following his All-star dunk but I don’t
think that does Gil full justice. Arenas has stated that he wants to
be remembered as a fan who got to play the game he loves. He
understands that he is leading the life any basketball fan would love
to lead and that is why he isn’t just ‘Gilbert’.
He is We.
*Gilbert’s numbers in Orlando were heavily affected by limited minutes
and role on a new team whereas prior to his move and whilst still in
Washington (10) in 2010, he posted averages of 17.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg and
5.6 apg in 34.6 mpg. Something that is ignored by the fault-finders..
** A number of the above links could not be added as they were part of
Gilbert Arenas’ blog on NBA.com which, due to the lockout, means the
information has been removed from the site. However, if you can spare
some time, I highly recommend reading through the court papers
associated with the gun trial. (11)
You can follow the author of this article on Twitter at @keiththejourno