Pinata Tied and Golden
I wrote a thing for FanHouse this week about the very, very serious man Ron Artest has become. You should read out, but here's the gist: Ron Ron was once taken seriously in a bad way, then became a harmless joke, and now, through his advocacy of mental health issues, has once again turned his persona into something that matters. Reading yesterday's Marc Spears column on Gilbert Arenas, these days, I had a similar thought.
I've been understanding this season's Arenas as sad, sunken epilogue. The quotes he gives are, for someone who had so much invested in his days of might, heart-rending. Even his description of himself as "controlled chaos" from the beginning of last season -- which at the time, seemed forced and unhappy, and soon thereafter, the worst kind of irony -- now makes me smile. That's what Gil did at his peak: he made us smile. When he describes himself as an entertainer, it's not in performative, WWE-sort of way. Rather, he was a play who, through basketball, could remind us of that part of brains that's there to be tickled and confounded. "Enigmas" in sports are troubling if the game is an equation to be solved. We know it's much more than that, though, and so the 2002-2007 Arenas can never be erased.
Wipe that tear away. We had a while with him, and while it would have been great for Gil to keep it up forever, at least he gave us (and got) that five-year joy ride. The more I read of him these days, the less I think he needs our pity. Sympathy, maybe, but we should take note not only of the fact that he's changed, but that -- unlike in other comebacks -- he's fairly comfortable in what he's become. Maybe it's resignation, and yet there's no question that Arenas has assumed a new role in the grand scheme of the league. Not necessarily wise, or entirely disinterested, he has the perspective that comes only with losing it all and then piecing yourself back together again. No question, ruminative Gil is a function of circumstance. But there's something Sheed-like about statements like:
“When a young guy is coming in, the older guy never wants to move over,” Arenas said. “But I know my time here is over [as the face of the franchise]. I messed up my legacy here"
“It’s still basketball. The rules don’t change for the bench players. I learned a lot from the whole Iverson experience. Not get a job because I can’t adapt to my environment? I’m sure I can adapt to any environment.
“In this league there is no such thing as long-term anymore. Players are getting shipped out and shipped out. I’m looking at the Kings like, when I first came [into the league], none of those players were here. The Lakers team, the only person that was there was Kobe [Bryant], and Derek Fisher came back."
Arenas is resigned to what he's become. In that, though, there's also resolve -- resolve to not only make sense of his situation and find a realistic path forward. More importantly, these are hard truths about the league, ones we could stand to here. They're certainly useful to have out there in public, probably even for younger players to hear.
Sports radio loves to talk about players who "get it". In that universe, Arenas never did "get it". Now, he "gets it", except "it" isn't about killer instinct or locker room chemistry. He never really did play by those rules -- he was "an assassin" to the point of absurdity, and we all know what his idea of a lively locker room led to. That doesn't mean, though, that others can't learn from him, whether or not they brought a Desert Eagle to the Verizon Center. Gilbert Arenas says these things not because he could give a fuck less, or in hopes of making us all weepy on his behalf. He does it because he doesn't have any choice. He's always been incapable of self-censoring, and perhaps was a bit too honest at times. The difference is, these days there's real substance to what he's selling.