The Retrospective: Gilbert Arenas

Gilbert Arenas has faced adversity all his life. When he was just four, he was discovered by his Grandmother in a dilapidated, decrepit apartment building in Overtown, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Miami. He was all but abandoned by his mother, whose drug addiction was so powerful that it frequently left the family without food for days. After a quick phone call, Gilbert Sr. was notified and drove across state to rescue his son. In the following months, little Gil and his father managed to survive through grit, determination and a bit of good luck.

Broke and motivated by a passion for acting, Gilbert Sr. packed up their belongings and drove across country to Northern Los Angeles. Arriving with just $25 to his name, Gilbert Sr. struggled to survive, sleeping in cars with his young child beside him. After weeks of failed auditions, the two camped out at a local YMCA, sleeping on a mattress they were graciously provided.

One day, little Gil picked up a basketball and never put it down. A YMCA janitor saw little Gil playing, talked to his father and offered him a job after some brief discussion.  It wasn’t quite the Hollywood stardom he’d hoped for, but Gilbert Sr. would take any role, on or off the stage, to help his young son.

From there, the pieces started falling together. Life certainly wasn’t comfortable for the Arenas duo – but it was manageable. Little Gil pursued anything that fulfilled his competitive edge. Playing football mostly, Gil didn’t join a basketball team until the age of 12, when it became his main sport. Once in high school, Arenas continued to play but slacked, relying on his natural athleticism rather than taking the game seriously. But things all changed when the varsity coach convinced Arenas to hone his skills, claiming he saw something special. After this extra motivation, Arenas focused up, spending long nights practicing under the stars, often arriving hours before practices to warm up and staying late after games to fix his mistakes.

After growing four inches to a decent 6’ 3”, Gilbert became a lethal scorer – averaging over 30 points per game in his junior year. And his senior year, he posted incredible numbers – 33.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 4.6 stealsgil per game. Although he wasn’t accepted to his dream school in UCLA, he found another top tier program to call his home at the University of Arizona.


During his freshman year at Arizona, Arenas excelled. Originally, he was second on the depth chart behind starter Ruben Douglas, told that he would redshirt the entire year. However, Arenas made himself a promise – by midseason, he’d be a starter. After an excellent preseason, Arenas quickly fulfilled that promise, earning the MVP of the National Invitation Tourney and the starting position. Douglas quickly transferred to University of New Mexico after being assigned to the bench.

Arenas thrived in Arizona’s fast-paced system, averaging 14.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, all on a solid on 45.3% shooting. During the NCAA tournament, Arenas continued his high level of play, averaging 18.5 points and scoring 21 in their second round loss to Wisconsin. It was during his freshman year that Arenas began to develop a reputation. Although most of the team maintained a serious attitude while playing, Arenas established himself as the opposite – a jokester. Commonly pranking fellow players and showing off at practice, he brought a new lighthearted attitude to an otherwise serious team.


Despite the disappointing second round exit, the Wildcats were ranked the number one team in the nation by the AP polls. But things quickly took a turn for the worst, as Bobbi Olson, team mom and wife of head coach Lute, revealed she had cancer. As a result, the team started slow, dipping as low as 21st in the national polls. The team recovered, rallying late in the season, regaining their spot in the top ten by the last week. And the rally was lead by none other than Gilbert Arenas – averaging 16.2 points, 2.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. In addition, he shot an accurate 47.9 percent on 8 attempts per game, all while raising his 3-point percentage from the previous year’s 29.2% to 41.6%. Simply put, Arenas was a man on a mission, willing his team to a number 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. In the tournament, they cruised past Eastern Illinois and Butler before squeaking by number one seeds Illinois and Michigan State.

In the finals, Arenas and the Wildcats faced off against the Duke Blue Devils. Gilbert scored only 10 points on a lackluster 30.8% shooting, likely due to a nasty fall he took the previous game. As a whole, the Wildcats were simply outmatched by a lineup of future NBA players such as Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Carlos Boozer. Thus, Arizona fell 82–72.

After the championship, Arenas felt he had honed his skills enough to take his chances in the NBA draft. After improving his defense, three point shooting and passing, Arenas had an enormous impact on the Wildcats’ run at the title. However, most scouts felt he was too trigger-happy (8.0 attempts per game) and too skinny to become a shooting guard in the NBA. As a result, he fell to the second round of the NBA Draft – 31st overall. After being passed up by his dream team (Knicks) yet again, Arenas vowed to work to improve as hard as he could. It was a wake-up call for Arenas – despite his brief stardom in the NCAA, he was still seen as a nobody in the eyes of many scouts.

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Once in the NBA, Arenas chose to don the number zero, which represented the number of people who believed he would make the NBA. Unfortunately, the trend continued as saw limited action his rookie year. Arenas sat on the bench behind rookie Jason Richardson and backup Bob Sura. Seeing his spot on the roster, Arenas once again vowed to have the starting spot by midseason. Arenas did everything possible to improve his play, even breaking his contract by participating in local street ball games. However, Head Coach Brian Winters didn’t budge – Jason Richardson was the starter. His belief that underclassmen didn’t belong in the NBA kept Arenas firmly on the bench in the midst of an abysmal season. Occasional blowouts allowed, Arenas to gain some garbage time but he wasn’t satisfied.

With rookie Dean Oliver and an aging Mookie Blaylock splitting the point guard duties, Arenas decided to offer himself up for the position. Winters obliged and the results were quite fantastic – as Arenas averaged 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds on 45.8 percent shooting after he switched positions in January. As a rookie, Arenas’ scoring was excellent, as he finished with multiple 20-point games and even an 11–15, 32-point game performance in March. As a result, he ranked third in total assists and fourth in scoring in his 30 games.


Going into his second year in the NBA, Arenas was given full control of the team. Blaylock retired and Oliver was traded, leaving Arenas with the starting spot. Unlike the previous season, Arenas started in all 82 games, nearly doubling his averages. The team once again failed to make the playoffs but the team’s development had come a long way, leading to a much more entertaining season. Arenas played terrifically, scoring 20+ points in 37 games, including a career high 41-point performance in Washington. He also honed his passing skills, nearly doubling his assist numbers. As a result of his increased level of play, Arenas was awarded the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and the NBA Rookie Challenge MVP.

Although Golden State fans loved Arenas, they were soon disappointed to hear that his contract was expiring. Unlike first-round picks, whose contracts are easily re-signed, Arenas’ second-round contract allowed him more freedom as a free agent. Golden State was limited in their negotiations and Arenas snagged a six-year, $65 million contract with Washington. The Arenas era was over in Oakland. Warriors faithful were so upset that “The Arenas Rule” was eventually put in place to prevent such conflict.


Despite his comfy contract, Arenas was thrust into an unusual role while in Washington. Just recently, Michael Jordan had staged a relatively unsuccessful comeback tour, which result in a complete management overhaul as well. As a result, Arenas was heralded the new messiah of Washington basketball. Filling the shoes of the one of the game’s greatest players, whose success blossomed at the peak of international NBA-mania is a task many of us would shy from. Not Gilbert. No, his unrelenting attitude and enthralling play made Arenas a new fan favorite. It made fans forget about the disappointment of the Jordan era. It made them forget about the bumbling disappointments of number one pick Kwame “hands of stone” Brown. For once, Wizards fans had hope for the future.

Bernard King, Chris Webber and even Michael Jordan had yet to bring Washington success since their only championship back in ‘78. Maybe this new group of youngsters would finally turn the team’s luck around. Arenas’ gutsy mile-deep heat checks, earned him the nickname “Hibachi.”

Arenas and shooting guard Larry Hughes formed a versatile and powerful up-and-coming backcourt. They were a perfect pair – Hughes the silent observer and Arenas the outgoing goofball. Arenas had found the yin to his yang, balancing him out and controlling him. Unfortunately, Arenas was only able to play 55 games during the ’03 season, as he battled hamstring issues. Despite his restricted minutes, he was able to increase his scoring output to 19.6 points per game and increase his steals to 1.9 a game. His injuries showed at times, as he played less efficiently, shooting 39.2 percent from the field and a career high 4.1 turnovers per game.

Part of Arenas’ decreased efficiency were likely the growing pains associated with his new leadership. And his reduced minutes didn’t help statistically. He was far from the most efficient but fans didn’t care as he often put on dazzling displays of 25+ point scoring efforts quite frequently throughout the season. His streaky shooting didn’t matter, as the entertainment factor was enough. Just four games in, he recorded his first career triple double and recorded three total throughout the season. The Wizards failed to make the playoffs, but with the highest scoring backcourt in the NBA and a young, rebuilding team, the fans were more than content with the results.


The following year, Arenas and the Wizards yet again continued to improve. With an improving Hughes and recently acquired journeyman guard Antwan Jamison, the Wizards had their best season in 26 years. Arenas averaged 25.5 points, 5.1 assists and 4.7 assists all while shooting 43.1% from the field. In addition, he placed first in total minutes, seventh in FGM, fourth in PPG, second in 3PM (behind only Ray Allen), fourth in SPG and third in FTM behind only Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. He truly was in the top tier of players who was at the level generational scorers such as Kobe, Iverson or Allen. However, the highs came with lows as well, as also lead the league in turnovers and placed fourth in personal fouls. As a result of his high level of play, Arenas was named to his first All-Star game.

In the weak Eastern Conference, Arenas’ Wizards 45 win Wizards gained the number 5 seed, and faced off against a young Chicago squad ripe with talent. After a dramatic 10-point comeback in game six, Gilbert Arenas stunned audiences with 16-foot fadeaway buzzer-beater. The Wizards had won their first playoff game in more than a decade. The Dwyane Wade and Shaq-lead Heat went on to sweep the Wizards but not without a fight – and not without an impact. Arenas had quickly transitioned from a streaky youngster to one of the league’s most prolific scoring threats – “Agent Zero.”

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Over the offseason, the Wizards revamped. SF Caron Butler was acquired in exchange for Kwame Brown and helped fill the void of Larry Hughes, who signed with Cleveland in Free Agency. Paired with Antwan Jamison, Butler and Arenas formed the best scoring trio in the NBA. And 2005–2006 was perhaps Arenas’ best in the league. Just take a look at his statistics:


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Arenas, Butler and Jamison lead the Wizards to a 42 win season and a chance to face off against the LeBron-led Cavs. However, they stood no chance, as they lost in a six game series.

The next season was just as successful for Arenas and included an incredible career-high 60-point performance against LA. However, in the postseason they had the misfortune of facing off against – and falling to – their biggest rivals in Cleveland. Without another true superstar to support Arenas, he was once again unable to get past the barrier of LeBron James.


By his seventh season, Arenas’ high minutes began to catch up with him, as a torn MCL limited him to just 15 games in two seasons. The Wizards returned to unfortunate levels of mediocrity and the locker room turned to chaos. In 2009, Arenas returned seemingly good as new but an argument lead to a firearm incident in the locker room with teammate Javaris Crittenton. In typical Gilbert fashion, he joked about the allegations, celebrating a three-pointer by drawing his “guns”.

Unfortunately, NBA Commissioner David Stern didn’t find the joke to be funny and claimed Arenas was “not currently fit to take the court”, suspending him (and Crittenton) for the remainder of the season. The world’s perception of Arenas changed seemingly overnight. Paired with a shoe defecation incident, Arenas went from the loveable goofball to a gun-toting gangster suffering the same level of negative press as Plaxico Burress and Maurice Clarett. As a result of his misconduct, Arenas was traded to Orlando in exchange for sharpshooter Rashard Lewis. After 42 games in Orlando, Arenas was amnestied. Although he had brief stints in Memphis and Shanghai, he was never the same player as in his Washington days. Luckily, he’s thrived off his absurd $111 million contract, which lasts until this year.

Since, Arenas has revealed his high level of basketball IQ, with a long-running blog and a series of Instagram posts analyzing basketball greats. He’s had trouble staying out of the limelight, from taking a cinderblock to his Mercedes over a nasty divorce to allegedly toting 100 pounds of fireworks and getting kicked out of the Orange County Fair for racking up prizes.

Gilbert Arenas is enigmatic to say the least. Whether you label him as a troublemaker or a goofball, he’s had quite the interesting career. His insane athleticism was only matched by his inability to stay out of trouble. And unfortunately, most fans only remember the latter. If not for an unlucky injury and such a negative (albeit, deserved) reputation, Arenas could’ve stayed among the tiers of the greats. Although his prime was quite short, it was one of the most entertaining stretches we’ve seen out of a player – for better or for worse.