Let His End Not Be in Vain
It's been a very complicated year for me and Gilbert Arenas. I've seen my favorite player turn into a household name, stand tall as a gargoyle of the media, and foster his self-championing along into outright megalomania. I'd be lying if I didn't say, in typical snobbish fashion, that things were easier before all of this. Fame may not have spoiled Arenas—after all, any franchise NBA player is already pretty fucking famous—but notoriety and some version of affirmation have, somehow, made him seem less blither, maybe more bitter, than before. Arenas was once a dreamer who played weird, talked weird, and boasted the way kids plan to have children. With some power under his belt, suddenly all of that has heft to it, and throwing it around no longer comes off (or likely is) as innocent as it was before. Suggesting that Gil just isn't like that is an insult to him as a ruthless competitor and as a starkly self-determined individual.
But that doesn't mean I wasn't speechless when I found out he was gone forever, or at least until next opening day. That he got taken out by #2 on my personal power rankings makes me wonder if God is speaking to me through basketball. Or it just forces me to admit, once and for all, that those football pads are bullshit. Wallace is a force of nature whose productivity depends on how out of control he can get. And he's a former football enthusiast who still looks like one. Regardless, if both had suffered career-ending injuries on that play, I don't think there would be any question that I, Bethlehem Shoals, am least as important to the cosmic order of the NBA as Billy Donavon.
The most searing consequence of all, though, has nothing to do with this site's implacable role in stacking up the universe. Instead, it's about plain and tawdry pragmatics: in the playoffs, I need to root for someone. That or when basketball really matters, I break down, turn into a far more normal fan, and clutch all sorts of things in search of Wizards victory. Admittedly, I only care about Washington, D.C. because of Arenas, and my secondary allegiance to Phoenix hinges pretty much exclusively on Stoudemire and Barbosa's prevalence. Still, being able to watch Wizards/Cavs with investment in both LeBron's abstract luminesence and the more subjective enthusiasm I have for Arenas and his Wiz was, to say the least, two very different realms brought together in a manner that allowed both to adequately represent their respective strengths and weaknesses. I will never shit on LeBron because that's just inane, but it's a waste if you don't find some degree of partiality in a playoff series. That's like starting a fire for warmth and not making s'mores!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thusly, this year's playoffs just got a heck of a lot dimmer for me. I was already intensely worried about the Wizards' prospects sans Caron, since he's that assertive middle ground between Arenas's whimsy and Jamison's supplementary steady. Take Arenas out of the equation, though, and nothing pretty will happen. One, the Wizards will be unrecognizable to me as a team I support. And secondly, they will be drawn, quartered, and slaughtered by just about anyone they encounter in the first round. Actually, scratch that—they will be lucky to steal two games in the first round.
Therefore, I want to suggest something, for the good of the Washington Wizards and the NBA as whole. Let them trade away their playoff spot. Granted, we've seen injury-ravaged teams amaze us all, but so what if the Wizards somehow make it out of the first round? They're as good as dead, even more so than the Nets or Knicks still striving to lock up a postseason invite. This year, it would be lunacy for anyone to trade away a lottery pick. But what about some sort of elaborate orchestration in which they got a non-lottery first-rounder? Teams can sell picks, so why shouldn't they be able to give up a similar privilege for which they have no use? For teams struggling to define themselves, a playoff spot could be a milestone, and any of the lower-seeded East teams are arguably more deserving now than the Wizards.
I know that there are holes in this plan, and that it stinks heavily of bitterness and despair. Surely, respect for the law of the league and the sanctity of seasonal outcome must take precedence over breaking circumstances. But in effect, the Wizards are no longer the team that earned this distinction. To let them carry on as such would be mildly irrational; to force them to march on when others would rather take a go is, to me, the utmost in totalitarian folly.