It’s been nearly a year since Gilbert Arenas(notes) brought guns into the Washington Wizards’ locker room, a decision that ultimately led to him receiving a 50-game suspension from the NBA and 30 days in a halfway house and two years probation from Washington’s legal system. Arenas lost nearly $7.5 million in salary, a lucrative shoe contract with Adidas and who-knows-how-much in legal fees. The incident prompted the Wizards to dismantle their roster and trade, among others, former All-Stars Caron Butler(notes) and Antawn Jamison(notes).
And even now with the one-year anniversary of the incident approaching, Arenas insists – in spite of details gleaned from the prosecution’s 61-page sentencing memo – that the public still doesn’t know exactly what happened between him and guard Javaris Crittenton(notes) in the Wizards’ locker room on Dec. 21, 2009, a confrontation that began after the two players argued over a card game on a charter flight two days earlier.
[Rewind: Arenas fakes injury to help teammate]
Nor does Arenas plan to offer much more insight into the events. What is clear is that Arenas is still struggling to cope with the fallout from the incident and the subsequent criticism of his character.
“Everyone is going to have their judgments about everything,” Arenas told Yahoo! Sports. “I never told the real story. Javaris never told the real story. But everybody had a story out there, and that’s the problem. You’re judging me off a story that somebody else made up. And that was the part that hurt. That’s not fair.
“I look at people different now. I try not to attach myself to people anymore as much because if people heard the real story … ”
[Photo: Arenas' impressive beard]
So what is the “real story?” Arenas said only that there was more to the incident than has been reported. Those close to Arenas said he remains upset that some early media reports inferred he and Crittenton pointed the guns at each other, which he thinks inflamed subsequent coverage of the incident. The prosecution’s memo details how Arenas displayed three or four guns in Crittenton’s locker and left a note asking his teammate to “Pick 1.” Crittenton then threw one of the guns across the locker room and showed his own weapon, prosecutors said, but no one witnessed how the confrontation ended.
But after serving his punishment, Arenas doesn’t think it’s worth explaining his version.
“It’s pointless now,” he said. “I already got in trouble.
“If I looked at a newspaper, I became this evil guy. Now wait a minute, what did I do that was actually evil? I don’t know. It was frustrating, but … it’s in the past now, so hopefully I can just move on.”
Moving on hasn’t been easy for Arenas. A year ago, he was working his way back from a series of knee operations that had limited him to just 15 games over the previous two seasons. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports just days before his locker room incident with Crittenton, Arenas vowed to return to the Agent Zero of old – the high-scoring guard who could seemingly drop 40 points on a whim.
“I’m controlled chaos,” Arenas said then.
Within a week, the Wizards notified the league of the locker-room confrontation. Two weeks after that, NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Arenas for the remainder of the season. The suspension reminded Arenas of just how much he missed the sport.
[Suspension request: New development in Brett Favre scandal]
“That’s all I know to do,” Arenas said. “Basketball is my life. Entertainment is my job. When I lost my life it was depressing.
“I was willing to play in pickup games. I was getting in an adult men’s league. I just wanted to play basketball again.”
When Arenas did return for the start of this season, the Wizards had overhauled their roster. Butler and Jamison were gone. No longer was Arenas the face of the franchise. That distinction belonged to John Wall(notes), the 20-year-old rookie guard the Wizards took with the No. 1 pick of the draft.
Arenas began the season on the bench, but has started 11 of the past 13 games. He’s averaged 17.4 points, 5.1 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 33.5 minutes per game.
“I’m a different player,” he said. “Then I was an assassin. Now I’m just a guy trying to play the game the right way.”
Wizards officials have applauded Arenas’ work ethic and competitiveness as he adjusts to playing off the ball. “The intensity is there from his part, the motivation is there and it’s going to be a process as we go along,” Washington general manager Ernie Grunfeld said.
Coming off the bench also was a transition. Arenas hadn’t been used primarily as a reserve since he was a rookie with the Golden State Warriors in the 2001-02 season. He knew this much: He couldn’t complain. Not after watching Allen Iverson(notes) resist a bench role with the Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies – a stance that led to Iverson now playing in Turkey because no NBA team wanted to sign him.
“It’s still basketball,” Arenas said. “The rules don’t change for the bench players. I learned a lot from the whole Iverson experience. Not get a job because I can’t adapt to my environment? I’m sure I can adapt to any environment.
“I probably would have had an ego in 2006, 2007, but I’ve been hurt for three or four years now. When I came back [last season] it was Caron’s team, Antawn’s team, and I was adjusting to them. It’s not like I’ve been playing a whole year of basketball where I’m the man. I haven’t been the man since 2006, 2007.”
Arenas also seems to have accepted that the Wizards are now building around Wall. While Wall has been slowed by injuries – he’s missed seven of the Wizards’ 21 games – he has been productive when on the court, averaging 17.4 points, 9.1 assists and 2.4 steals. Wall, in turn, says Arenas has mentored him like a “brother” as the two guards try to improve their chemistry.
“When a young guy is coming in, the older guy never wants to move over,” Arenas said. “But I know my time here is over [as the face of the franchise]. I messed up my legacy here.”
How much longer Arenas plays for the Wizards is the question no one seems to be able to answer. New Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has repeatedly said he’s not interested in trading Arenas, and Arenas’ contract, which has three years and more than $60 million left after this season, will be hard to move anyway. Still, when Arenas is asked if he can envision himself playing out his contract in Washington, he sounds like he’d prefer a change of scenery.
“In this league there is no such thing as long-term anymore,” Arenas said. “Players are getting shipped out and shipped out. I’m looking at the Kings like, when I first came [into the league], none of those players were here. The Lakers team, the only person that was there was Kobe [Bryant], and Derek Fisher(notes) came back.
“There is a young team here [in Washington] and they’re trying to build some chemistry. I guess until they find the right deal that’s going to get me out of here, you know … I’m here.”