THIRD MAN IN: Gilbert Arenas’s fall from grace

Behind the Bench/Sports by

Overflowing with confidence, talent, and charisma, Gilbert Arenas was the unofficial darling of the NBA just two seasons ago. A cocky sharpshooter who worked hard to make his way to the top of the basketball world, Arenas captivated the league with his flashy smile and graceful style of play. While he was a cold-blooded killer during crunch time, he was a pure comedian off the court, and was one of the first professional athletes to connect directly with fans through his online blog. Whatever nickname he was going by at the time – Agent Zero, Hibachi, Gil – I once loved and respected everything Arenas stood for.

But that’s all in the past. The strange and startling events of December 24, 2009 led to possibly the quickest fall from grace ever for an NBA superstar. Inside sources from the Washington Wizards’ organization leaked information regarding a gambling-related argument Arenas had with teammate Javaris Crittenton. While the details remain unclear, what we do know is that Arenas had been storing guns in the Wizards’ locker room, and used them to threaten Crittenton in the heat of their argument.

Arenas’s behavior was completely unacceptable for anyone, let alone a professional athlete. But what quickly made the matter worse was Arenas’s refusal to take the whole thing seriously. After the initial report of Arenas’s gun-related issues surfaced, he was seen dancing around in the Wizards’ pre-game warm-ups with his hands in the shape of Glock 9s, metaphorically “shooting” his teammates. The morning after pictures of Arenas toting his “handguns” inevitably found their way to the internet, Agent Zero tweeted the following: “I wake up this morning and seen I was the new JOHN WAYNE. LMAO the media is too funny.”

The minimum punishment that Arenas should receive is a suspension for the remainder of the season. But even that would not be strict enough. While the Wizards will attempt to void the rest of Arenas’s contract (four years and $78 million remaining), the NBA players’ union will probably use its extensive power to prevent the team from terminating their relationship with their star point guard. NBA Commissioner David Stern needs to set a precedent and overrule the decision of the union, terminating Arenas’s contract himself. He needs to teach Arenas a lesson – that the price for immaturity and nonchalance towards gun violence costs about $80 million.

It was Arenas’s light-hearted reaction to the issue that really put me over the edge. Gun violence results in thousands upon thousands of deaths every year, and part of the problem is that many of today’s youth think it’s “cool” to own a gun. In the past, I’ve argued that it is important to forgive athletes for many of their errors, because they are human and will make mistakes. But Arenas’s reaction has caused me to lose all respect for him. If he had apologized sincerely immediately after the incident, perhaps I would have forgiven him. But the fact that he showed no remorse and instead made light of a topic as dangerous as gun violence is pathetic.

When Arenas entered the 2001 NBA draft, he expected to be picked somewhere in the first round, ideally by his childhood favorites, the New York Knicks. But come draft night, Arenas watched every team in the NBA pass on him in the first round. Arenas chose to wear the number zero, because he felt that no one believed in him when he entered the league. Fans looked at his uniform number, and recognized it as a sign of motivation. But now, things are a lot less symbolic. Far from being a role model, entertainer, and sports star, Arenas has become the definition of his jersey number: nothing.