The Dollar With a Donut in the Middle
At this point in his career, a bonkers utterance from Gilbert Arenas counts for very little. I know plenty of weird people; what has always drawn me to Arenas is that his basketball participation smacks of weirdness. Anyone can quip to cameras or come up with internet folk wisdom. There's nothing at stake there. But shit that matters—decisions on the court, mindset going into a game, dynamic of an offense—isn't to be tampered with lightly. It's Arenas's willingness to (or inability to not) see these things as elastic that continually astounds me.
If you had to boil down the professional basketball equation to basic elements, they would be performance and money. Which is why, with these Bonds ball comments, I believe we're turning over a new leaf of Gilbertology, one that could once restore his rightful status as seer and take him off the sideshow circuit. There were inklings of this in his party, even if it stank a little too much of perfectly terrestrial arrogance. Then came the Richard Jefferson naming rights war, and the insanely ornate shoe roll-out plan.
Granted, Arenas didn't even get a bid in on the former, but Jefferson called Gil the catalyst behind his big move. Arenas made him want to put up $3.5 million for bragging rights. The GilIIZero thing, while more nerd-novelty than mainstream gamble, still has him getting almost pointlessly creative (and confusing) with his marketing. If you didn't see it there, which I only partly did, this Bonds ball proposal brings it out into the clearing of the shaved: in a very real way, Gilbert Arenas is not afraid to fuck with his money.
When Arenas first began to generate very, very low-frequency buzz around the league, it was for his perplexing judgment and his hellishly-involved pranks. There's nothing inherently deep about locker room pranks, which are usually just a way of blowing off steam or generating camaraderie. Their instigator is often some fun-loving dude, in the same way that wilin' out in the club says nothing about one's mental stability.
Yet when coupled with Arenas's finest on-court feats, his more pointed, involved pranks seemed like they were out to prove a point. Like he was pushing buttons, seeing if a teammate would punch him in the jaw or follow him into enlightenment. That's not to say that Gilbert Arenas isn't serious. However, an important part of his persona depends on being able to subvert, invert or ignore the standard definition of "serious." His silliness feeds his undeniable seriousness about the sport and his ascent as a business entity—not as distraction, but as an important ingredient in what motivates and sustains him.
Arenas's willingness to turn money matters into recreation sites doesn't show that he's frivolous or spoiled. Instead, it's kind of like capitalist performance art, a way of acting out his most internalized attitudes. Then again, while I know Arenas is perfectly self-aware, I also think he can't help himself. Or has very little interest in learning to play by the usual rules. Gilbert Arenas wants to be weightless with his riches, indulge whims, make statements, and dare us to judge him for it. These aren't publicity stunts or cries for help; they're utterly uncynical, and in keeping with the way of being that's gotten him this far. And somehow, it at the same time makes him a more grandly entertaining and a more profound public figure.