by Chris O’Leary

More so than any other NBA player, Gilbert Arenas is many things to many people.

To basketball fans, Gil is a cold blooded, methodical, game-winning-shot-hitting assassin who causes trouble for the opposition night in and night out. When he’s not hurt.

To the NBA blogosphere, Arenas is an irreverent type-first think-later blogger who provides countless hours of candor, hilarity and general entertainment to the masses through his blog on NBA.com. We all know he’s got someone writing it out for him, but still, the material is good stuff. If it comes from his brain to the fingers of a .com employee in its path to massive hyperlinks and an endless trail of OMG’s and the like (not that I’d ever encourage acronyms), I could care less. Just keep doing you…through someone else…and keep ripping Milwaukee. I love it.

Whether he’s blogging, killing your team for 60 (sorry Holly), celebrating his game-winning shot before the buzzer sounds, or cheating his way through Halo, Gil wears many hats. And he wears them well.

For me, though, he’s a teacher. Every time I see him put a shot up on the court, every time I read his blog and every time he does something that’s typical Gilbert, I see a walking example of J-school 101.

Last summer, I made my way out to Vancouver for the EA Sports Live 08 camp. The EA people had a whole day of activities planned out, all of it centered around their main man, Live 08’s cover athlete Gilbert Arenas.

On the flight to Vancouver, I’m bouncing in my seat, scribbling all over my notepad, trying to keep my atrocious handwriting legible enough so that I can look back at this sheet later in the day and remember to ask Gil all the questions I want to ask him.

Of course, as you probably all know already, Gil didn’t make it to Van-city that day. Passport issues, we were told. The day was still incredibly cool. Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion and a handful of other players made the trip, the Matrix cooked us burgers on the Hibachi, and Paul Pierce told me he had to take a dump. Great day, right? Right.

While Gil couldn’t make it across the border, EA was able to set us up with some phone time with their guy. I make my way into a sleek looking glass conference room that had a poster for the Godfather game on the way in (I can’t recommend that game enough to you, by the way. I realize how obvious this sounds, but that game is so gangster).

I sit down with my scribbled up notepad in one hand, my recorder in the other. I check to see if he’s there.

“Hey, Gil?” I say to the phone on the table.

“Hey,” he said back. “What’s going on?”

We start talking and I look at my notepad. Scribbled on top of the scribble that’s already there is a big word, all in caps: PASSPORT.

“What happened with the passport,” I asked him. “You couldn’t get into Canada?”

He stammered on his answer. I thought that was weird.

“Well you know, I couldn’t, I left my…my…I left my passport in the house and you know, me and my girlfriend got in a little argument, so I couldn’t go back home.”

I think, after re-listening to the interview, that there’s a hint of a laugh in his voice when he tells me this.

As soon as he mentioned his girlfriend, a little alarm went off in my head. For whatever reason: nervousness, not wanting to pry, worries on my time constraints with him, I didn’t push it. I moved on to the next question.

We talked and I thought things went well. The day went on, wrapped up eventually and I flew home that night. A day or two later, my recap was up on SLAM’s site, and the experiences of everyone else started making their respective rounds too.

A week and a half later, Gil wrote about his experiences (search under Relationships 101) and topped us all.

The minute I read his blog post, I was kicking myself. I was like, right there. Right there. All I had to do was ask one question. Not even. Just say one word.

Why?

Why did you and your girlfriend get in a fight? Why couldn’t you go home? It’s your house, I’m assuming you paid for it. Why not just go home and get your passport and come to Vancouver?

I ask those questions, and one of Gilbert’s greatest Gilbert Moments becomes my story to share with the basketball blogging world. Instead, me and every other reporter there were scooped by the star of the show.

You may be wondering what this has to do with sneakers. My long-winded (803 words and counting) point, the reason for this post, came in the mail on Monday. Staring up at me from the black box, with his jersey hanging over his shoulder, was Agent Zero, enshrined on the cover of SLAM 102—double enshrined behind the translucent herringbone pattern of the SLAM-Gilbert Arenas adidas sneaker.

It’s too perfect, really. Sure, I’m far from Hester Prynne status, but I can’t help but feel like I’m carrying my burden on my feet when I wear these things. It’s almost like the punishment a character in an old-school kung-fu movie would get. The mark I leave behind me, my footprint, is the face of the person who taught me one of the harshest lessons I’ve learned in my career.

All that’s left to do now is move forward, and hope that one day the student gets another sit down with the teacher.