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Eric Freeman

Gilbert Arenas' exit sparks some sincere emotions in D.C

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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As you almost certainly know by now, Gilbert Arenas(notes) is no longer a member of the Washington Wizards. This outcome has been expected since the gun trouble of last winter. It had to be this way, sadly.

However, that does not mean that this weekend shouldn't be a period for reflection and positive memories. To wit, the stellar Wizards blog Bullets Forever has deemed it "Gilbert Arenas Tribute Day" to sum up the Arenas era before moving on to the future. The pieces are not entirely positive, but they show a great deal of feeling for Gil and what he meant to the franchise and city. It's a display of love in all its intricacies and nuances.

To his credit, Arenas recognizes that he and D.C. once held a special bond. So, upon leaving for Orlando, he sent a message to Chris Miller of Comcast SportsNet, which Bullets Forever kindly reproduced:

I know it didn't end like I would have liked. I had a great time playing in Washington -- they made me feel like a rock star while I was here. I wish I could have took them further than the second round.

I wanna thank Mr. and Mrs. Pollin, Ernie, Eddie, every teammate I went to war with on that basketball court. Thanks [sic] you for believing in me.

I wanna thank Mr. Leonsis for giving me a chance to regain some basketball respect back in my career, and I hope nothing but the best from him and the Wizards.

Last but not least I want to thank the great fans of Washington. It was an honor playing for you guys for 8 years.

I hope when it's all said and done. I entertained you when you entered those doors at the MCI/Verizon Center and can forgive me as a man for the mistakes I've made.

Many athletes thank the fans when they leave a city, but something about this message feels different. When Arenas was at his best, he stood out from other stars for his ability to tell the truth at every opportunity -- he didn't rely on stock press-conference cliches or tell people what they wanted to hear. So when he talks about connection to Wizards fans, it feels sincere.

But fans were not the only ones to deal with some complicated emotions when Arenas left. Check out these words from Wizards teammate Nick Young, also at BF:

So he did what anyone would do: he started sobbing. Okay, so he wasn't really sobbing, and was just putting on a show for the cameras. It's the Nick Young(notes) way to handle things, making light of everything and generally cracking a smile. When it was over, Sam Cassell came over, and Young repeated the routine with him. In a way, it was fitting.

Joke or not, though, the loss of Arenas was difficult for Young to take. Arenas emerged as a mentor figure to Young from the day Young was drafted. When the two shared the court together, Arenas always made it a point to call plays for Young to score. So it's only fitting that Arenas' last interaction with a member of the Wizards was at Nick Young's house, around 2 p.m. this afternoon.

"I was a little shocked, because I was lying down and he knocked on my door and said 'I'm gone,'" he said. "I thought he was talking about to the store or something. But no, he said he was about to get on a flight to Orlando. That's when I knew. I thought he was playing around, but he was all dressed up, his bag was packed, and that was it."

Young has always been a favorite of Arenas -- he was practically the sidekick on Gil's old NBA.com blog -- and this has obviously hit him hard. But it would be wrong to think that this reaction arose from the fact that Arenas and Young liked to play pranks together. It goes much deeper: Arenas took Young under his wing and showed a great deal of compassion for Young as a rookie. After a few rough seasons with the Wizards, Young has now become a capable scorer, and he undoubtedly credits Arenas for part of that success.

This story is a reminder that, for every story about pooping in Andray Blatche's(notes) shoes or joking with guns, Arenas was not a bad teammate for most of his time with the Wizards. He wasn't a peerless leader or consummate professional, but he forged bonds with his teammates and carried the Wizards to heights they hadn't reached in decades. Although things ended badly, there seems to be little question that this era will be looked back upon fondly when it's all over.

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