March 25, 2009
I couldn't quite put my finger on it. This has been an entertaining NBA season, led by a cavalcade of stars at the peak of their skills. LeBron and Dwight Howard crashed the MVP suite, where Kobe and KG (and even Old Man Shaq) held their ground.
There was the revival, like a Phoenix, of D-Wade (another viable MVP); and the continued brilliance of young guards like Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Brandon Roy.
And every 90 seconds a coach was fired.
There was plenty of drama, a great setup for the playoffs. But something was missing. There were plenty of stories, but something hasn't been quite right all season, and I just couldn't put my finger on it. Until...Hibachi!
There was no Gilbert Arenas. I missed him.
I missed Agent Zero, the three-time All-Star guard who is the only member of the league's All-Character team. I missed him because he (trash) talked it, blogged it, even texted it - and walked it, too.
And of course he shot it. Shot it with the best of them. In fact Arenas and Kobe may be the best big shot makers in the league.
When Arenas is healthy, which hasn't been in awhile.
Gilbert hasn't played since April 27, last season, in a playoff loss against LeBron and Cleveland. He's had three operations on his left knee in the last 18 months, and while teammates said he looked great in practice on Tuesday (a day after sending a text message to a Comcast reporter announcing his return this Saturday), we still don't know yet whether he's fully healed from the last surgery, in September.
More important, the Wizards don't know. Which may be the very reason he's playing at this inconsequential juncture of the season.
Without Arenas (and almost every other starter Washington has lost for good chunks this season), the Wizards have the NBA's second-worst record. For the next nine games, they're playing for Blake Griffin, the presumptive No. 1 pick should the Oklahoma stud/forward leave school.
Arenas' return will let the Wizards know what they have in their six-year, $111-million investment.
I'm not sure if I'd want to know.
But I'll surely watch. Arenas is a love-him-or-hate-him guy. His bravado. His cravings for attention. His boundless ego put off many who favor humility and by-the-book sportsmanship (read: guys who played hard and stopped only when spoken to).
But love him or hate him, you watched.
You watched because you couldn't believe someone would actually yell, "Hibachi!" in the midst of a shooting streak (because he was hot).
You watched because whether he made the shot or not, you knew he was going to take the shot, no matter who was guarding him.
You watched because you also knew Arenas earned his shots. A noted workout freak and perfectionist, Arenas was legendary for his offseason regiment, in the gym and on the court. (He'd take hundreds of shots, even after achieving bona fide all-everything status.)
The season wasn't the same without him. But at least we'll get a little taste of what we missed.
And perhaps we'll know whether we'll ever hear Hibachi! again.