For the first time in many years, an NBA season has unfolded with very little attention paid to enigmatic guard Gilbert Arenas. From his early days in Golden State to his peculiar form of stardom in Washington to his unfortunate gun charges to his ineffectiveness in Orlando, Arenas has given basketball fans plenty to think about. Now, after being amnestied by the Magic in December, Arenas is sitting at home waiting for another opportunity.
There are signs that chance might come soon — the Lakers are rumored to be interested. For now, though, he has time to reflect on his career and look towards the future. He talked about those issues, plus a whole lot else, in a wide-ranging, essential interview with Sam Amick for SI.com:
When I got amnestied, I could've just taken the money and just left, and just basically said, "Hey, you guys did me a favor. I don't want to be crucified anymore." As much as I've done for fans and for people, it sucks the way the world works. You can do a hundred things for people, but you do one bad mistake and everyone crucifies you and that's all they want to remember. They don't want to remember I gave my own money to the [Washington] D.C. school district and built up the D.C. school district. They don't want to remember none of that. They just want to remember, "Oh, I single-handedly destroyed the Washington Wizards franchise." It sucks, but that's the way it is.
So I decided I'm not here to prove anybody wrong anymore. I'm just here to prove myself right. I'm not here to chase the money, to chase stats. Now what you have is a basketball player who's ready to play, and that's what people don't understand. Like on Sept. 1, when I shut my Twitter down, this is the first time you're hearing from me, because I let everything go. Who I am is what you don't hear. When you don't hear me, I'm living my life -- quiet, I don't get in trouble, don't drink, don't smoke. But if you ask anybody else, I'm just this -- what would they call me? -- problem child. Somebody who gets in trouble all the time.
I don't pay attention anymore. But right now, you have a basketball player. I work out two times a day, every day. I watch tape. I play basketball. If I don't play in the NBA, I'm playing at the YMCA and I'm just as happy.
He also spoke about what happened with Javaris Crittenton in the Wizards' locker room two years ago:
I've never talked about it, and I felt like this: The reason I never talked about it was because if [the media] couldn't do your own research to find out the truth, then why should I do it for you? It was like, "If you don't care, I don't care."
OK, I owed my teammate [Javaris Crittenton] money and I pulled a gun on him? OK, does that even make sense, like I owed you money but I'm pulling a gun on you?
SI.com: Do people ever just bring it up on the street when you're out and about? How often are you hit with it?
Arenas: No. People come up to me and have a conversation with me, especially at the YMCA, where I do spin class in the mornings. You have people who want to talk to you to see what kind of person you are, and then you have people saying, "Oh, you don't seem like what they made you out to be."
Before that incident, I was the people's champion, God's gift to all fans, gave fans everything. If I never go back to the NBA, I had a great career. I've hit big shots. I've had my moments. Hey, everyone can't win a championship, but I had fun. I got to play the game that I always dreamed of, and I did it more than I expected it. That's how I look at it now.
Arenas comes across as remarkably zen about the past few years and his NBA career as a whole, to the point where it feels like he could never play again and be perfectly happy with his life. That might be a put-on — he's always been keenly aware of his public image — but it also suggests that he's thinking about the rest of his life in the right way. He has never let his exploits on the basketball court define who he is as a person. If that means he'll spend time riding go-karts (seriously, that's in here), then so be it.
The interview doesn't paint a perfect picture of Arenas; for one thing, he seems flippant towards his felony gun charge, which would be bizarre even if the incident were less sensational than the media reports indicated. But there are few NBA players of the past 25 years who could give an interview this honest and forthcoming. At his peak, Arenas stood out because he was a genuine personality in a league where most superstars appear micromanaged. He's no less fascinating in repose.
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