Gilbert Arenas left his mark on the Washington Wizards franchise, that is for sure. He was a player who may have been on his way to another 40-point night and at the same time was playing online poker at halftime. Arenas did things out of the norm, some things that made him great, but others that made you question his stardom. But that was just who he was and his time in the nation’s capital was some of the most exciting basketball Wizards’ fans have seen in a long, long time.
Gilbert Arenas, known to many as Agent Zero, became a Wizard via free agency in 2003. He signed with the Wizards after being a productive player with the Golden State Warriors, but really became a star in D.C. He made basketball relevant in the District. Michael Jordan may have brought energy back to Wizards’ basketball when he came out of retirement and played from 2001-03, but the Wizards never even sniffed the playoffs. When Arenas was onboard his ridiculous ability to score, hit big shots and go at the league’s best players made the Wizards a force in the Eastern Conference.
He took the Wizards to three straight playoff appearances from 2004-07. Those years were his prime. He was one of the best scorers in the league. In that three year span he averaged 27.7 points per game. He had 25 40-point games as a Wizard and many of them often came against the league’s top players. In 2007, he and Kobe Bryant went at each other. Arenas got the best of Bryant and the rest of the Lakers dropping a cool 60 points (16 in overtime) while Bryant had 45 points in the loss. In that game, I think he wanted to make Lakers point guard Smush Parker retire on the spot. He put him through an array of moves that had Parker and any Lakers defender helpless. Bryant, who was an elite defender at the time, could not contain Arenas, who used 3-pointers, pull-ups and penetration to get whatever he wanted.
That is what he did to most defenders. He and Tracy McGrady had multiple games where they both went for 40-plus points. He went head-to-head against LeBron James in every one of his playoff apperances and showed out. In 2006 playoffs, he played six games against James and the Cavs and averaged 34 points per game in that series to go along with five assists. He and James went at it. That is what Arenas loved. He lived for the challenge and it is obvious with all the big games and big shots he put together as a Wizard.
Yeah, he only got past the first round of the playoffs once. But he made the Wizards relevant. Watch highlights of those years, the Verizon Center was packed. People came out every night because they knew Agent Zero would give them their money’s worth. It was awesome. He was so good in the closing seconds of a game, fans were as confident in Arenas as he was in himself. And confidence is one thing he never lacked. He hit three game-winners alone in the 2006-07 season while hitting countless more in a Wizards jersey. Heck, he even hit a game-winner in China last year. He just had a knack for those moments. Players like that are what makes basketball such a great sport. Arenas always wanted the ball in crunch time. He always wanted to play the best.
Arenas was certainly not perfect by any means. The online poker rumors created bad vibes. He was suspended indefinitely after it was discovered he had brought guns into the Wizards locker room. However, he did the D.C. area great good as well. An article by Michael Lee of the Washington Post titled “Wizards Learn to Love ‘Gilbertology’,” he talks about how Arenas in the 2006-07 season donated $100 for every point he scored at home to local D.C. schools and mentored a 10-year-old D.C. kid who lost his family in a fire. His actions off the court in some ways mirrored his play on it. He was often erratic with his shot selection and his decisions. He holds the Wizards’ franchise record for most points in a game (60), but also the most turnovers (12). But you wanted him on your side, because the good outweighed the bad. You know Arenas was going to give you everything he had on every given night. His 40-footer to tie up the game against the Cavs in the 2006 playoffs is one of my–and most likely many Wizard fans’–favorite memory in franchise history.
For a franchise that has struggled immensely for years, the three years Arenas owned this city, basketball was fun and people were excited. Gilbert Arenas was like no other player this franchise has seen.