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Yes, the stories are true. Talcum powder on donuts his rookie year. Stealing teammates tires in the parking lot. The shoe incident. Make no mistake, there is no changing Gilbert Arenas. There will be practical jokes and quirky press conferences. When the front office signed him to the $111 million extension, they understood those things. The fans had accepted Gilbert for who he is, and blessed the antics. The media initially rejoiced at having an athlete so unfiltered and accessible.
Things change when weapons are involved, and they should. 50 games were deserved and more would have been reasonable. If Arenas is guilty of anything, it’s a failure to understand the impact he has. Every word that comes from his mouth, and every step he takes on and off the court ripples through the sports world. His brilliance in 2006 guaranteed that he would be a mega star into perpetuity. Even through the knee injuries, the NBA pedestal still holds a place for him. When a player emerges whose game has the magnitude of Gilbert Arenas, we wait anxiously to see if it will ever return.
Pundits who ridicule the NBA do so based on the perceived lack of intensity. What they fail to understand is that the reason we love this game is for those moments of brilliance, frozen in time, that capture the beauty of human ability. Arenas’ game at its peak is transcendent, a blend of power and finesse that rewards our lust for greatness. There is art in Gilbert’s ability, and those who recognize it still hold a place for him and he will never be forgotten. For this reason, every time he emerges from the shadows of injury and shame that have plagued him for three years, we pay attention. So when he jokes with the media and fakes an injury, he doesn’t realize that he has just lit the sports world ablaze. Every mention of his name sparks a reaction, a fury lying in wait for every action he takes.
What he did this week was foolish and probably wrong. Maybe he will see now that his impact as a star will never fade, and he cannot idly throw chum into the water with the beasts. This incident is not a reflection on him, however. We know this is who he is. If one day his antics again rise to the unacceptable as they did in December, we will be justified in removing him from our thoughts, and in abandoning any hope that his unique impression on this game was more than fleeting.
In truth, the only thing required of Gilbert Arenas is the effort and desire to reach that stratum again. Perhaps it is unattainable. But lost in this uproar is that he is doing everything necessary to fulfill his duties to this city. He has adjusted beyond anyone’s expectations to the arrival of John Wall, both on and off the court. He has not had a single bad possession in the preseason, and has displayed an understanding for the game that has become impeccable. His body is again taut and strong, and the work put in to crafting that body is evident. His coaches rave about the willingness he has shown to back the team’s mission. What more can we ask of him? He is a flawed man, as we all are. That should not negate the intensity he has brought this offseason to restore the trust we once had in him.
The chorus of voices who scream for his doom ignore these facts, and one can see their point. He is not, however, the vicious monster they lead us to believe. He is a player whose unbridled skill illuminated so many winter nights. He is a man whose joy for the game and for life sometimes disrupts the paths of others. He is no longer the leader of this franchise, as he has the closest vantage point of all to see another young man rise to the heights he once attained. What he can be is a story of redemption. By his own doing, he has caused the vitriol that is laced upon him. But he does not deserve it. The fans in that building on F Street are still by his side despite all that has happened, as they chant his name and reach for his autograph. The onus is now on him to redeem their loyalty. Count this as one man who is confident that he can achieve it.
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