He Broke the Book on Knights

This town hardly needs me to stump for Gilbert anymore, seeing as he's become the unofficial mascot of the NBA blogosphere. And at first, I wasn't going to say anything about this blinding event, just as I've kept relatively quiet about the invincible streak he's riding. After about the fifteenth viewing of the MJD-furnished footage, though, this all came rushing forth, I collapsed in tears, and I knew that tonight I had to sort it all out.

Let me start by revisiting the quote I messed with earlier today, lifted from DC Sports Bog:

"You know, that's the only thing I don't like about drafts, is a thing that's called 'potential.' What is 'potential?' Are you potentially good, or are you gonna potentially be good?... I focused on it more when it was my draft, and it's like this 'potential' word. It's like, what is it? Either you're good or you're not, either you have heart or you don't. You can't give someone a heart."

I'm not sure why I had so much trouble with this before. Arenas isn't saying that he lacked potential in the classic draft sense—he's saying that he both had this raw promise and the will to gestate it. This quote isn't deriding potential, it's observing that potential alone is not enough.

For anyone familiar with the Arenas mythos, this is a bit of curveball. Gilbert Arenas has been presented as the nutty underdog who could, the lifelong overachiever who has made his doubters pay at every turn. Because of his carefree demeanor, goofy habits, and seeming naivete, Arenas has been transformed into a lovable, light-hearted figure, the benign poet-athlete adrift in his personal craft. His story is an upbeat one, and his knack for beating the odds has made him something like Rudy with a straitjacket.

Watch him walk away after that shot and you'll see how wrong that is. I don't doubt that Arenas is a kind-hearted fellow and a pleasure to know, but on the court he is every bit as bad as Kobe, KG, Iverson or Amare. In a roundabout way, he ends up with the same ecstatic "fuck you," that ability to show the game belongs to him. And while he may be making pulp of the league as of late, cognitively this is nothing new to him. You see, Arenas has known all along that he could ball at an exquisite level, and been willing to put in the work to get there. In his mind, he's never not been able to keep up with the likes of Kobe—a little irrational, certainly, but pretty much in line with what most would-be athletes dream.

At no point has Gilbert Arenas ever succumbed to the kind of frumpy humility we expect of our underdogs. This is a man with rip-roaring confidence, one who is outraged that no else could see in himself what he did. He works incessantly not out of desperation, but because he knows it’s how great gets made. I don't think you catch this from him except when his swag bursts forth, and yet it's every bit as key to his being as all the unconventional logic is. While only a madman would take that shot, only a cocksure SOB would look away and snarl before it had even gone in. Similar things occurred when he hit that shot against the Bulls in the 2004 'Offs, and before The Takeover the transformation was almost eerie. Now, he's become such a force on the court that we're forced to think him equal parts mystic and zealot.

In his mind, Gilbert Arenas is only an underdog because of circumstance. Contrast with, say, Iverson, who although he's gifted beyond all imagination is acutely aware of the roadblocks he's faced. He's short, grew up the hard way, and has faced all types of discrimination in his college and professional careers. Iverson has as big a chip on his shoulder as anyone, but it's because he's overcome so much. Gilbert, on the other hand, seems mostly angry that the world's ignored the obvious for so long. As strange as it sounds, I don't think Arenas realizes what a long shot his professional career has been. Whereas Iverson self-consciously struggled against his limitations and defined himself through them, Arenas just sought to become the best player he could. As that quote shows, he never bothered to notice that he wasn't a true point guard, was too short to play off-guard, looked for his shot first, and everything else you could've faulted him for before the 2001 draft. Maybe this is obliviousness, but it also makes him a far less bitter figure than Iverson——and less of a traditional underdog.

Make no mistakes, I'm not saying Arenas is some intolerable demon of snot. Forget not this true Gilbert confession, again from DCSB:

Welcome to the wonderfully warped basketball mind of Arenas, who confessed to something on Tuesday that no one else of his stature in the sport would dare do. Three years ago, he traded two pairs of his sneakers and his Wizards jersey to a sporting goods store for a box of all-star game ballots. He just sat down and went to work.

"I just know I can be a starter," he told himself, and he kept punching the holes in the ballots for himself and his teammates, Jamison and Larry Hughes. What's more, he said he's heard stories of NBA all-stars hiring people to fill out ballots, backing trucks into garages with busy-bee pals working to manipulate the vote. To Arenas, it didn't sound like a bad idea. He just wishes everyone would stop acting so cool, so above it all, and get over themselves already.

Gilbert Arenas hasn't changed. He's still the same guy he always was, is still going to say weird shit, make backward decisions, remain at once loose and grounded, and refuse to take himself too seriously as a public figure. Flip to basketball and all that's true—except he’s always taken the game deadly serious. He doesn't see luck or whimsy, either in the career he's led or the way he goes about extending it each night. We’re just only beginning to recognize the contrast between on-court Gilbert and the off-court icon we've polished. Similar form, completely different impetus. It's only when he's casually lighting up every team in sight, and baring his soul with a walk-off sneer, that this has become truly impossible to deny.


At 1/05/2007 1:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since moving to DC last year, the Wizards and Gilbert have simply made my life better. It sounds weird, but in a town so focused on style over substance, a town where true diversity provides the vibration of life into the city, a city where the longer you are here the bigger the gap between the haves (the kids who can afford to take 20K a year Congressional jobs and live in Georgetown and are the macro-image of DC), and the haves-not-so-much (the born and bred locals who make this city beautiful on the micro scale) seems so evident... the Wizards this year have been an amazing experience. Gilbert (and Caron and the rest) is the personification of an athlete that a city is proud to call it's own. Now we just need to play a little more defense to feel good about our post-season hopes!

At 1/05/2007 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This city runs on smoke and mirrors, The Wizards remain honest.

At 1/05/2007 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Frumpy humility" is a great articulation, although it reminds me of every commercial for "Pursuit of Happyness" when I start envisioning what it looks like.

As noted, while Gilly (the only term my sister will use for Arenas) has become a blog legend of Jordan-like status, this post may very well be the de facto Wikipedia entry regarding why he's appealing and what it is that makes him Gilly.

What a bunch of people fail to make clear is that the only person not at all surprised or even impressed by any of this is Arenas. And that makes his triumph so much more engaging.

At 1/05/2007 10:17 AM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

the following antecdotes explain gil's demeanor on the court and off it.

-during the bobcats game in charlotte, gil was called for a violation of some sort while he had the ball. he calmly held the ball while walking up court and asked the ref for an explanation. adam morrison came up and tried to get the ball so he could make a quick inbounds pass, and gil's steez went from politely inquisitive with the ref to "get the fuck out of here you overhyped worthless nobody" in .3 seconds. the look on his face alone completely sonned the living crap out of morrison, who gave up on trying to snatch ball and let gil get back to chatting with the ref. lesson: he's got control of his game in categories that go beyond scoring and hitting game winners. he can scrunch the brows and scratch the head to diplomatically question a ref, then immediately make an opponent his prison bitch all with 4 steps up the court.

-in a televised interview aired in the preaseason, gil was discussing the lifestyle of nba dudes during the offseason. he was rattling of the usual stuff like partying, playing pickup ball, traveling... and he capped it off with the phrase, "And other fun activities like that." FUN ACTIVITIES??? is this dude an mvp candidate or adny kaufman??? i died laughing, but here's the lesson: i wasn't laughing AT gil. he knew the deal and was categorizing a long list of possibly seedy deeds as "fun activities."

these two minor incidents reveal a lot about the complexity of his character, especially why he is successful on the court and so likeable off it.

At 1/05/2007 10:33 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

1. even if you're exhausted from this post, go get acquainted with joey's latest. it's on style, function, pete maravich and yes, freedarko. the discussion begins. . .

2. important sports bog: better video of gil's reaction.

3. seeeez: this earlier bog has an interesting quote from gil about wanting to be fun like shaq. it does seem to me that he could be both humorously equating "seedy" things with fun, and implying that there's nothing wrong with considering those things fun.

At 1/05/2007 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge Gil fan, because I'm a diehard 'Zards fan. But, let's please please stop this transcendent description nonsense.
Yes, he is a great player. Yes, he's playing unbelievable right now. He even could be the best scorer in the league right now.
But as far as separating himself from everyone else in the league (as someone commented on the last post), no chance.
Did anyone catch the Lakers game last night? Kobe has been separated from everyone else for a few seasons now. But he is playing absolutely exquisite basketball right now. 42 points on 20 shots!!? Down 4 with 6 seconds left and he wills his team to a tie, then dominates in overtime. Goodness. This guy could be the greatest when its all said and done.
And I think Kobe is a little more FD than anyone would think. Very interesting guy.

At 1/05/2007 11:13 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

ao--i'm a big kobe guy, and i find him fascinating, but as a personality he can't hold a candle to arenas.

that said, i agree that kobe is probably playing better. would winning an MVP as a unquestioned team player change his reputation once and for all?

At 1/05/2007 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great question Shoals. I just wrote up a quick analysis of how I think Kobe's doing this year...www.nasiscoming.blogspot.com

If he did win an MVP, playing like he is, it would certainly change my view of him in the grand scheme of great players of all time. He has learned, and adapted, just as Jordan did in the early 90s. If he wins the MVP, and then more rings, my God. Best of all time?...

At 1/05/2007 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bucks broadcast team reaction was way more priceless than 'Zards Jim Rome-isc rendition. Johnny Mac got in a quick word about the ingenious play design by Terry Stots (never thought I’d see ingenious and Stots in symphony), followed by Gil getting the ball and a barely audible “SSSHHHHHHHit” from the broadcast team. Silence for 3 seconds, swish, “Well that’s what happens.” Jump to interview with Caron Butler “Gil said they miss we win. Racine southside represent.” “Yep, game was pretty much over.”
Best part of the play was Rojo’s and KobeStopper’s mannerisms leading up to the shot, both showing indecision of when to flash for the double/triple team, liftoff, Patterson mouthing “O Shit” in agony before the shot is released, dejection. Arenas’ strut was then a comic book induced “The world has been saved, my work is done here, and I haven’t even broken a sweat.” Great theatre.

At 1/05/2007 12:44 PM, Blogger seezmeezy said...

shooooooooooals- yeah i'm prolly missing the true point of his quote. i just thought it was beyond ill to hear a grown man, let a lone a professional athlete, toss out the ol' "fun activities" label.

as for kobe and gil, the difference is simple: kobe is a douchebag, gil is a cool cat. i'd say mj was a douchebag too and to a certain extent it's what made him so dominant (fuck all ya'll, especially you wennington, it's my show). makes for a better player but i wouldn't want to spend 30 seconds interacting with him.

At 1/05/2007 1:23 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

I don't think b-ball Sociopath ever presented or thought of himself as an underdog - rather, I think he envisions himself as under-respected, and underrated, but not an underdog overcoming obstacles. Maybe you have a quote or something to that effect, but everything I've read indicates that he pictures himself as underrated, i.e. "how dare YOU ALL leave me off the Olympic team - I'm gonna make you pay for that slap to my face". That's the pyschology that makes him fascinating to me, personally. He really is a sociopath - he has no fear, no humbleness, no foresight... he only operates on pure vengeance. He shots 1,000 shots in a gym while comparing that to the 13 shots LeBron or whoever is shooting that night. That's sociopathic behavior, channeled via basketball.

Of the court he likes DVDs and collects (almost with fanantical zeal) game jerseys. He's definitely not psychologically in line with most athletes, even those who are super-competitive (like Jordan) - they thrive on beating you, on winning. Arenas thrives on making you respect him (winning is not the goal, but a means to the end). Fuck, the man shot a 32-footer when a 2-footer would have been enough. Hence, shooting a 32-footer will make YOU respect his range next time.

At 1/05/2007 1:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

sml--i know he doesn't think of himself that way. that's my point. others do.

WV: eoglhfae=can album about edmund spenser-inspired laceless footwear

At 1/05/2007 1:47 PM, Anonymous Kierkegaard said...

Kobe Bryant is never going to win another title.

At 1/05/2007 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kirkegaard, that's a statement of ignorance.
You can't say he will never win another title the way he's playing ball right now.
I'm not a Kobe Bryant fan as a person by any means, but I absolutely love watching him on teh baseketball court, and anyone who says they don't is lying.
He's the best artist in the game working in front of thousands in person and millions on a screen. The guy will get to the top again.

Farmar, Kobe, Lamar, Walton, Bynum
-future starting 5...not bad

At 1/05/2007 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy ish, go read Joey and do it now...peep game indeed.

I have to say that I was a Gil skeptic up until this year. And from a pure basketball standpoint, I guess I still am (I'd still take D-Wade, and probably KB24 first, for example). But I am completely sold old him as the most devastating scorer in the game today. The guy who makes you say "what the fuck do I do about that?" with regularity. The closest comparisons I can really think of are Big Dog Robinson in college or Andrew Toney when he got it going. But with more style in his pinky then either had in their entire bodies.

At 1/05/2007 3:07 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

this probably got quoted somewhere else, but here's something releveant from the times article:

“In my mind, I arrived a long time ago,” said Arenas, whose jersey number is zero. “It’s just convincing everybody else that I arrived.” In the same interview Tuesday, Arenas called himself a “character,” but said that compared to Michael Jordan, Bryant or Allen Iverson, he was “normal.” New York Times

At 1/05/2007 3:53 PM, Blogger Stumbleweed said...

Unrelated note, but Julius Hodge might start at point tonight for the Nuggets (with AI moving to the 2 and presumably Yak playing the 3 and defending Kobe). We can really use a 6-7 PG right now, and I'm hoping he plays well and earns some time for the future.

At 1/05/2007 5:52 PM, Anonymous Sean said...

Does anybody think (like me) that Kobe Bryant is the Antichrist?

At 1/05/2007 5:54 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

based on what i know of all four, i agree that arenas is probably more "normal" than MJ, KB24, or AI, in the sense that if i spent an hour with each of them, i would probably feel most comfortable and at ease with gilberto.

At 1/05/2007 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what "normal" even denotes in reference to the elite of the elite among professional athletes. I agree with the suggestion that Agent 0 would probably be the easiest to hang out with for an hour or two. Whereas KB, MJ, and AI all exist/existed on a different plane, gliding ethereally along producing unexplainable feats of artistry and magic, Arenas comes across as a fairly regular guy (albeit totally loopy) driven by a massive pathos.

At 1/05/2007 10:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesnt intentional comedy etc. seem forced and hence not FD? Is not what Gil does (off-court only) intentional (i.e. wanting to capture ppl's attention)?

I have my own defn of FD, I guess! To me, Ron-Ron, Nash, Kobe are very FD. On another level, if FD is defined by artistry, no one beats T-Mac. He makes it look simple, like Mozart's music...

At 1/06/2007 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's the point. I don't think Gil's off-court antics are contrived. He's a legitimately weird dude and that's just how he rolls. If he wanted to capture attention, there are better proven formulas, e.g. projecting a non-threatening, blase persona suited to shilling for shoe companies and sportswriters.

At 1/06/2007 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

read this

Arenas always seems to talk about how to be a 'man of hte masses', sorta thing..Also, another line wherein he asks how kobe could get his mojo back, by giving jerseys to ppl..

The fact that he thinks about his image and how he could improve it suggests that his antics seem forced..

At 1/06/2007 2:44 PM, Anonymous faux_rillz said...

According to a poster on a board that I frequent, someone on ESPN commented yesterday that "What Mos Def was to Urban Thermo Dynamics, Gilbert Arenas is to the Wizards".

True? And who said it?

And does anyone have a developed enough sense of what Mos Def was to UTD to be able to decipher the metaphor?

At 1/06/2007 11:16 PM, Blogger Rocco Chappelle said...

It was John Buchigross (sp?) and in an illness born stupor I didn't believe my ears so I watched the entirety of Sportscenter 2 more times just to process it. This weird event brought a few questions to mind.

Who are these sportscenter people? What the fuck are they about?

Who do they expect to get that reference? I'd venture to say that less than 100,000 people in the entire world could possibly get that and half of them are in Sweden.

If we hold this sentiment to be true, does that make Jamison, DCQ because he was in UTD and Medina Green?

At 1/08/2007 11:23 AM, Blogger japaja said...

gil waits for the ball to drop in and as it does (great shot) he turns. but he is looking at the basket as it goes in.


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