Who Is Henry Winkler?
I need some help from those assembled. Since that Gilbert Arenas SI article hit yesterday, I've been dismayed in all walks of my life. Last night I nodded off several times in a movie theater, just because it felt better that way. I would stop myself and wonder if I care too much about the NBA, but then I recollect Philly after an Eagles loss. I'm the same as everyone else, but different, so that means denial isn't an option.
I'll take it objectively first: If you didn't know, in the piece Gilbert pulls no punches about Kobe, LeBron, Wade, and Isiah Thomas, the player. I can deal with the Kobe stuff, since from a logical standpoint it is stupid for Bryant to think he'll end up in a better situation. I'll take Arenas at his word that he wouldn't ask out of Washington, and acknowledge that Iverson toughed out the Sixers for a hell of a long time (albeit partly to prove that he would and could do so). Not so sure, though, if his "I have 20ppg scorers" boast fares so well. That team lives to put up points, and the offense is perilously low on method.
The Caron Butler comparison is a valid one, and it might be worth inserting Lamar Odom into that discussion, too. But the bottom line is that Arenas is in a system that allows for firepower, a fact that he can't exactly take credit for himself. What's more, he's a point guard, while those other three are not. If their role players aren't getting points, you also have to examine their team's distributors.
I can't find as much support for his contention that the Cavs system makes LeBron look better than he is. That team is stagnant and cursed; LeBron might get to shoot a lot, and operate like he's the only Cavalier on the floor. But with zero relief from the opposing team's full defensive focus, isn't it also forcing him to work harder? I guess the added drama helps LeBron's cause, as it probably should Kobe's. Still, this presumes that success in those cases is a given, that a star living in isolation (yes, grasp that double meaning) might not be in a deeply ambivalent featured role.
And then, there's the "I'm stronger and a better shooter than Isiah" quip. As The Recluse put it, Arenas is right, but that doesn't mean he's better than Zeke, which is the definite implication. That's part of what bugs me so much about his criticism of his fellow All-Stars: While I'm as high on Arenas as anyone wandering these waters, I keep his game in perspective. He can take over games, lead his team, and impact the action like few players can. But LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade aren't just elites in their day, they're 50 Greatest material. Sure, none of them are perfect, but point out flaws or shortcomings there is a little myopic or forest/trees-y. We could start that with Arenas and it would go on for days; he's still a serious force on the court, just a tier below those other three.
What stings most about this article, though, is what it says to me about today's Gilbert Arenas. I've always prized the way his idiosyncrasy lead to interesting basketball. Some could call him sloppy, rash, or sans conscience, but they'd be missing the positives that come with this "imperfect" approach. I'd take it a step further, and claim that almost every moving player is in some way imperfect; that's the price of honing a recognizable, focused style. If you want basketball perfection, look to Tim Duncan, or the implausible horizon that is LeBron's eternal potential. You'd think that Arenas, of all people, would refrain from holding up some absolute standard of evaulation--like it or not, here he's crafting his own, on-the-fly version of The Right Way.
Furthermore, this is all too indicative of Arenas's descent into. . . I don't know, disagreeableness? I liked him more when I realized that he wasn't some lovable, cuddly savant—this was a cocky, cold-blooded motherfucker whose ego had to compensate for neglect. Who played not just to prove himself, but to exact revenge on all those who'd doubted. Even once he'd blown up, I was fine with his boasting and bragging; Arenas's self-confidence bordered on parody, and very rarely seemed malicious, or even aware of the fact that there was someone else in the room. It was more silly than anything else, as seen in his ability to shrug off false predictions.
I don't like what I hear in this interview, though. It's like Arenas has decided that if he's underrated, the way to stake his claim is to prove others are overrated. Not to toss out a gratuitous pop reference, but it's a lot like what's happened to Kanye, one of the few music/ball parallels I can get behind. That, in my opinion, he's wrong is secondary to the fact that he's gone this route. Maybe a couple of seasons ago, when he'd been this relatively unknown upstart, this would've been plucky and admirable. But getting more bitter and resentful the more he blows up, that's hard to love. While Gilbert Arenas isn't yet a household name, he's close enough to royalty that this griping comes off as paranoid and petty. The last thing Arenas, or his fans, should want is to see him transformed into an indie Kobe Bryant.