The Rise and Fall of Gilbert Arenas

Gilbert Arenas, for a brief period of time, was one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA.  Arenas had a knack for making huge plays, clutch performances, and obnoxious antics, all of which made him a fan favorite in Washington D.C., home to Arenas’ Wizards team.  Between 2004-07, Arenas averaged nearly 28 points a game, leading his team into the playoffs each of those years.  In 2008, Arenas was awarded with a huge contract extension, almost certainly ensuring he would retire a Wizard.  Unfortunately, two years later Arenas would be the center of a controversy that would ultimately derail his prosperous NBA career.

Arenas first became nationally recognized as a scoring point guard at the basketball powerhouse University of Arizona.  “The second we saw him, there we no doubt about his potential,” said legendary head coach Lute Olson, who recruited Arenas.  Playing alongside Richard Jefferson, a future NBA all-star, Arenas averaged nearly 17 points per game his sophomore year, leading the Wildcats to a number 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.  The Wildcats marched right through the NCAA tournament during the 2000-01 season, defeating their opponents by an average margin of 16 points a game, setting themselves up for a meeting with the number 1 seeded Duke Blue Devils in the National Championship game.  Arenas had an awful game, shooting 4-13 from the floor, scoring only 10 points, as the Blue Devils defeated the Wildcats 82-72.

After a productive college career, Arenas entered the 2001 NBA draft.  Despite strong consideration from many teams in the first round, Arenas fell to the second round, being selected with the second pick of the second round by the Golden State Warriors.  Arenas would wear a 0 on his jersey later to signify the number of minutes experts predicted he would play in the NBA.

Arenas had two very good years in Golden State, only averaging 10 points in his rookie campaign before emerging as a consistent scoring threat, scoring 18 points per game in his sophomore year as an NBA player.  Since he was a second round pick, Arenas was eligible to test free agency, which he did, earning a 6 year $60 million contract from the Washington Wizards.  Arenas instantly became the teams best player in 2003, averaging 19 points per game.  In 2004, with the help of backcourt mate Larry Hughes, the Wizards become a playoff contender, lead by Arenas and his nearly 26 points per game.  The next season, Arenas averaged almost 30 points a game (fourth in the league), two steals a game (also fourth), and six assists, a very high number for a volume scorer such as Arenas.  The Wizards would lose in the  round of the playoffs, although Arenas averaged over 34 points a game in the opening series.  The 2007 season saw Arenas score a career high 60 points in a game, making him one of only 22 players in NBA history to accomplish that feat.

By 2008, Arenas had established himself as one of the best players in the NBA.  He was also ready to begin talking a contract extension.  The Wizards were a perennial playoff team, but always were forced to exit early.  Arenas wanted to stay in Washington, but also wanted to be sure the team could compete for a championship.  The Golden State Warriors offered Arenas a max deal, 5 year $100, the $20 million annual salary richer than the Wizards could afford.  However, the Wizards presented Arenas with a 6 year, $111 million deal which forced Arenas to take a slight pay cut, but promised to bring in more talented players to help him win a championship.  Arenas accepted the Wizard’s offer.

Because of a torn MCL the season prior, Arenas’ 2008-09 NBA season was short, playing in only two games.

The 2009-10 season started on a more hopeful note, as a still only 28 year-old Arena’s seemed to be back to his normal self, averaging nearly 23 points per game over the first third of the season.

In December of 2009, rumors circulated that Arenas was storing firearms in his team locker, a violation of both building rules for the Washington Wizards, but also of D.C. ordinances.  Arenas, however, voluntarily turned his firearms over to security, hoping to calm the issue.  Unfortunately, reports surfaced days later that Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton pointed the unloaded firearms at one another during a heated locker room argument over gambling debts.  This compelled both D.C. authorities and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate.

Weeks later, Arenas, during a pregame celebration routine, gathered his teammates and “shot them” with finger guns, an act meant to be a satirical representation of his legal troubles.  The NBA suspended Arenas indefinitely for this action, and one week later Arenas plead guilty to charges of unlawfully carrying an unlicensed pistol outside the home or office.  Arenas was suspended for the rest of the season.

The next season, after getting back to a decent start, the Wizards traded Arenas to the Orlando Magic, where he became a backup behind Jameer Nelson.  Arenas only started two games during the 2010-11 season, averaging only eight points per game.

After that season, Arenas was cut by the Magic and signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, having his worst NBA season, averaging only four points per game.  Arenas now plays for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association.

At age 29, coming off an injury but still in the prime of his career, Arenas’ NBA career ended because of a locker room incident involving weapons.  Some would’ve argued the three-time all-star was in the midst of a borderline Hall of Fame career, before it was tragically cut short by bad judgement.

After Arenas’ return to the league after his season long suspension, he was a pariah with his home team, despite delivering some of the best seasons of basketball anyone had ever season.  One season before, the fans loved him, selling out Arenas jerseys all over Washington, referring to their beloved star as “Agent Zero” or “Hibachi”, a name Arenas had given himself because of his ability to get hot from the floor.  The very next, Arenas was an outcast, an afterthought.  He was a forgotten fallen star for the franchise he helped build up into an Eastern Conference contender for six years straight.

Now, people will remember the guy who threw away an excellent career because of poor judgement.  No one will remember the guy who donated $100 for every point he scored during the 2006-07 season to Washington D.C. schools, a number amounting to over $210,000.  No one will remember the guy who took pay cuts to remain loyal to a team that proved it wasn’t as loyal to him.

This was all for possessing unloaded guns.  Yes, possession of these guns was illegal, a felony in fact.  And yes, pointing a weapon at another person, unloaded or not, is also felony.  But are Arenas’ crimes as bad as Greg Hardy or Ray Rice?  Greg Hardy is still technically a member of his NFL team, being paid a full salary while not being required to play in games, despite being charged with domestic abuse.  Rice has been suspended indefinitely for knocking his wife unconscious in a hotel elevator, but surely an arbitrator somewhere will overrule the suspension, freeing Rice up to one day play in the NFL again.

One stupid decision ruined the career of Gilbert Arenas, and there’s no doubt he would take it back.  But before you make judgements about the man’s legacy, just remember the type of man he was.

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