Second Chance Points
Gilbert Arenas starts over.
by Tracy Weissenberg
Regarding the difficulty of rehabbing an injury, new Magic guard Gilbert Arenas says, “The mental part is usually the hard part of any injury…It’s just that you got to get confident back in what you’ve hurt. That’s the part because when you’re used to doing something and you haven’t done it in a minute, you’re scared to do it again.” Perhaps that quote can extend beyond his knee, since fixing what he hurt wasn’t as simple as waiting for his body to heal.
Healing an image can be daunting. The time it takes to repair perspective is often infinitely longer than the time it took to affect it. Arenas’s time playing for the Wizards was a roller coaster-the ups where you felt you were looking out over the world with him and the downs that spiraled so fast and so beyond control that the only thing left to do was hold on tight. The ride was going to take him where it was going to take him, and control-something so important and often taken for granted-no longer belonged to him.
Arenas’s roller coaster did not complete its course; rather he got off in Orlando, with a team that reached the NBA Finals in 2009. On whether he knew he was being traded, Arenas says, “No, I heard the rumors, I also heard rumors from other teams so I didn’t know where I was going or if I was going. There’s always trade rumors every other week.”
On the emotion he felt when hearing the news, Arenas says, “I didn’t have one. It was…I got traded, I went to the airport and left. I didn’t really get to say bye to anybody, didn’t even say bye to the kids, I just got on the plane and just left.”
Arenas characterized his excitement in lack of goodbyes and says, “At the point, it was just anywhere would’ve been a fresh start for me. I didn’t have to worry about anything going anywhere-I lucked out just coming here.”
So what does Arenas feel like he left behind in Washington? “Anytime I think about anything in my career, I think about all the big shots I hit and just the love of the city,” he says, “That’s where my youth was. That’s where I raise my kids and had my family. Washington is to my heart.”
“I gave them something that they didn’t have before,” says Arenas, “A player who came from nothing, embraced the city, let the city embrace them and just played hard. And just entertained them. Besides getting hurt and the legal troubles, for the most part I think I entertained the fans of Washington.”
The days of half court shots, nicknames and even laughs seem like a whole different era. “You know, it was weird at first because I didn’t know how I was gonna be welcomed back in Washington-nervous, scared, trying to do anything just to fit in,” says Arenas, “I think that’s where I felt I lost my aggressiveness-just trying to fit in to something where I felt, early, that I wasn’t a part of. But I just tried to do everything just to stay out of the headlines and stay out of people’s way.”
Staying out of people’s way doesn’t sound like a player whose game used to demand its own space. Besides his electric play, Arenas had the half-aloof, half-endearing personality that captured basketball fans way beyond Washington. On whether he feels like he can recapture some of his old demeanor in a new city, Arenas says, “I’m already feeling upbeat…The team is great, I guess it’s easier when four new people come in than just one.”
On the floor Monday in his Magic debut, Arenas wore No. 1 in honor of Penny Hardaway-a former Magic star whose prime was also stolen by injuries. “When I asked my friends what number, they didn’t even second guess it. I was going with the Penny. It’s just a pleasure and an honor to wear the number my favorite player wore,” he says.
Arenas finished the game with 10 points on 2-11 shooting in 27 minutes off the bench. The Magic lost 91-81 to the Hawks, but Arenas feels with time, the team will come together. “We haven’t been together more than 24 hours. Haven’t had any practices, just walkthroughs. Give us a week, two weeks, we should jell together. When you got players that know how to play the game, they’ll figure it out pretty quick,” he says.
And despite the loss, Arenas charmed a group of reporters huddled around his locker with his vulnerability and hope for his basketball future. Arenas may have been scared of the reception he’d receive earlier this season, but he’s not scared of letting you know-and once again letting everyone in.
On whether he would’ve emerged from the shadows surrounding his career had he stayed with the Wizards, Arenas says, “I don’t know. That’s something that I just don’t know. Just like anything, for me and for Washington, in any dark tunnel, there’s always light. You just gotta just keep moving to it and it comes.”
Time will heal old wounds and old wounds heal with time. Arenas has been given a fresh start. It is time to move forward.