SLAMonline Top 50: Gilbert Arenas, no. 17
The definitive ranking of the best players in the NBA today…
by Myles Brown
Pet peeve #721: “These guys make millions of dollars playing a kid’s game…”
This is simply not true. The game wasn’t invented by a kid. A comprehensive knowledge of its principles and a mastery of its fundamentals could never be achieved by a kid. The burdensome expectations of millions could never be shouldered by a kid. This game-this league-is for Grown Ass Men, a startling revelation many kids come to only after they’ve been trampled by the herd.
Which is why we are inspired by men who can survive at this level and still play like kids. Men who dare to enjoy themselves amidst pressure that would grind mere mortals to dust. Men who remind us that though this may not be for kids, it is still just a game.
Men like Gilbert Arenas.
SLAM: I wanted to talk to you because we’re doing our SLAMonline Top 50, and we’ve got you ranked at number 17. Just wanted to get your thoughts on that, amongst a few other things.
Gil: I think it’s wonderful to still be in the Top 50 considering I haven’t played in almost a year. So I’m grateful for that, but if I’m healthy, 17′s not my number
SLAM: What do you think is your number?
Gil: Uh, top ten. Top ten.
SLAM: Who would you rank ahead of you?
Gil: Player wise?
SLAM: Yeah, overall. Just consider it a fantasy draft.
Gil: Kobe. LeBron. I’d have Yao. Melo… I don’t know. I’m a fan so I’d put everybody in front of me, but once I’m on the court I’m not a fan anymore. I’m just an assassin. So I don’t….I wouldn’t see most of those guys in front me anyway, when it came down to pound for pound…
SLAM: I hear you. Kill or be killed.
SLAM: If you were making your own list, what criteria would you use in ranking or judging players?
Gil: Natural ability, work ethic and just talent. Just basketball talent and knowledge of the game.
SLAM: Do you think that age, injuries or anything else should come into play?
Gil: Um, yeah. When you’re looking at a number and you say somebody’s in the top five, you don’t want somebody who’s injured. And then depending on how old they are and what they do. If I look at Steve Nash, he’s one of those names I’d like to keep up there.
SLAM: You’ve been talking about how you want to take a more mature approach to things this season. Does that mean that we’ll be seeing less of the antics that make you known throughout the blogosphere and the league?
Gil: What’s kind of funny is that I just accepted that role. Before, people didn’t really know me. I averaged 29 points, I made a couple All Star Games, I got screwed at the All Star Game where I only played nine minutes and then I got left off of the Olympic team. That’s when the trash talking off the court started. Before that, I just played.
SLAM: Does that motivate you?
Gil: I think for me, it made things easier because sometimes when you’re at a certain level, you know I don’t put a whole bunch of….I have a repertoire of moves I can give ‘em, but when I’m playing basketball I just make it simple like coach always taught me. I just get the job done. See, that’s what people don’t really understand about how I play. I averaged 29 and I still had two other players that averaged 20 on that team. The night I scored 60, Caron had 30something and Antawn had 28 or something like that.
SLAM: How many assists did you have?
Gil: Eight. What people don’t realize is…they look at my numbers and they think “Oh he just shoots.” I’m a point guard. I missed the whole season and Caron went up half a point.
SLAM: So how does that affect your assessment of yourself when you how see well the team did without you?
Gil: That’s one of those rumors that somebody said and everyone else just jumped on it. If anybody did the actual numbers, when I played we were 40-30 and we were trying to get 50 wins. After I got hurt, we only won one game after that. So we went 41-41. So last year we won 43 games and everyone’s like, “Oh well they’re better without him than they were with him.” When a team is successful without their main player, people assume that if they don’t have him they don’t need him. Same thing with Kobe. They won three games without him early in the season and went 3-0. Here come the rumors. “Oh they don’t need him.” Same thing with LeBron. The same people that said they were better without me are the same people who when I went down and we went 1-10 said “Oh the Wizards look hideous without him.” You just gotta take the good with the bad. If they’re gonna say good things about you, you’ve gotta accept that they’re gonna say bad things about you. That’s why I never really paid attention to it. Abe Polin believed, Ernie believed, the coaching staff and the players believed.
SLAM: How much does coming in and out of the rotation affect your rhythm?
Gil: I remember when I was in high school and I broke my hand right before the season, I took my cast off before the first game and went out and scored 50. But with the knee, I can’t do anything. That’s what I get criticized a lot for. I play. I like to play no matter what it is. If I can run, ‘then you go out there and play.’ So when I’m 50 percent, I’ll lie and say I’m 85 percent or 90 percent so I can go out there and play and I keep hurting myself. And so for me, I don’t want to look back and say “I could’ve gave it my all.” But people are gonna go, “Oh he’s not the same player.” I’m not the same player right now. I’m at 50 percent, I can barely run. I’m not even practicing, I’m just suiting up for games right now. That’s how bad it is. But I just go out there, put my face on and try to grind it out.
SLAM: Just to go back for a second, you’re depicted as having a carefree and ‘quirky’ personality. Does that give you confidence on the floor? And considering the mature approach you plan on taking this year, how is it going to affect your style of play?
Gil: I remember I was, um, 11-years-old and my Dad had a basketball team. And it was right around that age when I started playing basketball. But he wouldn’t let me play on the team, so I played on the other team and we actually beat them and I had like fourteen. From there, that confidence of me beating his team never went anywhere. From there, I always had confidence about myself that no one could stop me because my Dad, he couldn’t stop me. So if he couldn’t stop me on the basketball court, who can? So I just worked and worked at my craft. So by me taking this ‘serious approach’….and you know what? When I made that comment it was more for the writers, I guess. Because my teammates, if I walked around here acting serious, they’d lose their minds. They want me to have fun. They want me to loosen up, because people take everything so serious they don’t know how to enjoy the game of basketball anymore. For some players careers are long, like Stacey Augmon, he played 18 years. But for some players it’s short. And so you have to enjoy every moment, you don’t want to leave anything behind. That’s why I have fun and that’s why I think people gravitate to me more. Because I like to have fun with it and still go out there and do what I do.
SLAM: So there won’t really be any changes in how you approach the game this year?
Gil: My antics don’t come between those lines, everything is around the lines. Once I get on the court, I’m a demon. I’m a demon player. And if I have time to smile or shake someone’s hand in the crowd then I’ll do that, but other than that it’s business.
SLAM: How has your engagement and a growing family grounded you and helped you through the injuries you’ve had?
Gil: I think if I were still playing I’d be riding that wave out, but just being at home and playing with my children and not at the gym so much has me appreciating what family values are. It’s helping me slow down and appreciate things even further.
SLAM: Are you gonna be one of those ‘Sports Dads’ who tries to instill the love of the game in your kids or will you have a more hands off approach?
Gil: I’ll be just like my Dad. “Whatever you wanna do is whatever you wanna do.” When I grew up I was a football player, he was a basketball coach, and he never pressured me or tried to make me play. He coached the team and for a year, I just used to watch and then one day me and my friends started to play at school. Things just went from there. It was just a faster pace for me I guess.
SLAM: That’s what you appreciate more about basketball than football?
Gil: Yeah. I can’t watch football. I can watch certain players during football games, but it’s too slow for my mind. I’ve got a quick mind and it just moves. So once basketball came in my life, I dropped everything and just focused on that.
SLAM: What are your goals for the upcoming season? What do you see the team doing and what do you expect of yourself once you’re healthy?
Gil: My number one goal is to be 100 percent. I don’t think the fans around the League should see anything less than me at 100 percent. I’m entertaining them. The more I’m on the court, the longer those people are in the seats. And I think that we need to get off to a good start. If we can do that while I’m rehabbing, I think it’s going to be great for our season. Every year for some reason we come out of training camp and we’re sluggish. Last year we were 0-5 and the year before that, we were 0-8. So I think we just need to come out of the gate strong.
SLAM: How much have you guys focused on defense and what that will mean to team success this year?
Gil: I think it’s gonna mean a lot. We proved that we can score. But the scoring teams in this league are not very good at defense. We’ve seen it from the Phoenix Suns, we’ve seen it from those Dallas teams. Now when you cut down the scoring and you add more defense we might only score 99, cause we’re not going to be running as much. When I was playing we were running, so we’re scoring, but we were giving up points. When you slow the game down, that actually helps in the points too and it keeps you in half court defense.
SLAM: It seems like you have enough scorers on the team-yourself in particular-that you can get off a shot whenever you want to, but it’s more about getting that stop to keep the game under control.
Gil: I talk to other players and I had free agents all year asking me what am I doing and what team am I going to cause they wanted to play that up and down. Even though it’s “winning” basketball to stay in the half court, a lot of players don’t like playing in the half court in today’s game. They wanna just go, they just want to run, they want to feel alive. Players don’t feel alive when they’re in that structured half court, but it wins championships.
SLAM: The open court game does provide more shots and a chance for everyone to showcase their talents.
Gil: And that’s why somebody like me can average 28 and Caron can average 20 and Antawn can average 20. Because there’s shots. When Larry Hughes was here, he was the same. I averaged 25, he averaged 22 and Antawn averaged 19. They all scored. And when he went to Cleveland thinking it was that same system they were running before-just a fast break-and he got there, and Mike Brown got there and put them in the half court, he never was the same. Only one player dominates in half court, the main player.
SLAM: You’d rather see everyone shine.
SLAM: Now come the end of this season, where do you think that you’d be ranked if we made another list?
Gil: At the end of the season and I’m playing at 100 percent? I’d be in the top…um, 7.
SLAM: Switching gears, I thought we could have some fun with a few general questions. If you had to choose between video games and porn for the rest of your life, which one would you go with?
Gil: Cause I’m a man. Video games is kids stuff.
SLAM: But as far as porn goes, you can get the real thing anytime you want to. There’s no substitution for video games.
Gil: That’s what you think. ‘Real’ men don’t hit it as much, from what I’ve heard. You got a little porn in your life, it’s all there for you. If your woman’s trippin’, bam, you’ve got it.
SLAM: Have you ever played Murder, Marry or F*ck?
SLAM: Murder, Marry and F*ck. I give you three people and you have to pick one for each.
Gil: Oh, I’ve seen that on 30 Rock. Okay.
SLAM: Alright. Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Star Jones. What do you do?
Gil: I’d marry Oprah of course…
SLAM: For the money?
Gil: Yeah. She’s also the cutest one out of those three. I’d f*ck….Whoopi and I’d murder Star Jones cause she has a Rottweiler’s head on a Doberman Pinscher’s body.
SLAM: She does look like a deflated parade float.
Gil: Big bobblehead.
SLAM: Alright. Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama?
Gil: That’s rough. I’d marry Obama….
SLAM: Why is that?
Gil: Cause if she got him this far in the Presidential race, I know she can do wonders for me!
SLAM: I hear that.
Gil: And uh…..I’d f*ck Palin…and who was the other one, Bush?
SLAM: Clinton. Hillary Clinton.
Gil: Yeah, and I’d marry Hillary. I mean I’d kill Hillary. She just looks conniving.
SLAM: Yes! Thank you.
Gil: She’d have you assassinated at any minute. She’s just ready to get in there and push the button.
SLAM: Speaking of politics, it looks like you’ve been replaced on the Obama/Arenas ticket by Joe Biden. How do you feel about that?
Gil: With who?
SLAM: Joe Biden.
Gil: Joe Budden?
SLAM: Joe Biden.
Gil: That’s the problem, I don’t even know who he is.
SLAM: You don’t know who Joe Biden is?
SLAM: He’s Obama’s running mate.
Gil: That’s what I’m saying. I don’t know who he is. I’m the only Vice President cause I was the original Black President. So when Obama came into office, I said “I’ll slide aside, let him be in command and I’ll be his sidekick.”
SLAM: You’re probably the better backup anway. That way, if anyone kills the Black President, there’s another Black President.
Gil: That’s right. And I’m a wild card.
SLAM: What do you know about Sarah Palin?
Gil: That she’s a female Bush. Retarded. I’m not that into politics, I try to stay away until things get closer. But just from what I can tell she’s a moron. She can’t bullshit yet. As a politician she doesn’t know how to bullshit. She’ll just run around the question. “Who’s better, Kobe or LeBron?” “Well you know D.Wade, he’s been looking nice lately, so those are tough choices.” What the f*ck are you talking about?!
SLAM: Andrew Bynum has been bragging about his Halo skills. You think he can see you?
Gil: No. No athlete can see me.
SLAM: So what’s your weapon of choice?
SLAM: Sniper, huh? I like the sword. Or the sticky grenade.
Gil: Wooooow! You can’t play with me then. You should’ve just said shotgun. Or rocket launcher.
SLAM: Why do you think nobody’s ever come out with a chocolate gum?
Gil: A chocolate gum?
SLAM: Yeah. It seems like a decent idea and no one has come with it yet.
Gil: Pssssh…a chocolate gum. I don’t know, man.
SLAM: Would you chew it?
SLAM: Why not?
Gil: I don’t like chocolate besides mixed chocolate and vanilla ice cream.
SLAM: So no Hershey’s, no bon bons, none of that shit huh?
Gil: Not really. I just think chocolate is for girls.
Gil: Just seems like only girls always want chocolate. But you know what? I’ve got an invention. I’ll let your hear it, but if you make money you’ve gotta hit me off.
SLAM: I got you.
Gil:It’s called the Cool Aid (note: I couldn’t tell if he said Cool Aid or Cool Wave. Either way, copyright pending…) It’s like the microwave, but the Cool Aid. So for instance you can put a warm soda in the machine and boom, it’s cold. Most people, “Oh no, you call that the freezer”, but nah, the freezer takes two minutes. Just like you’ve got the oven and the microwave, you’ve got the freezer and the Cool Aid.
SLAM: But what else would you want to make cool besides soda?
Gil: Anything. Like if your ice cream is melting, boom, put it in. Beep!
SLAM: Alright, you give me the seed money and I’ll put that project in motion…
SLAM: Last one. If Caron, Antawn and DeShawn were all dangling from a cliff, in what order would you save them?
Gil: Oh man. Um…Antawn cause I’ve known him the longest, and then me and him would pick up Caron and DeShawn. So there’s no last.
Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.