Top 50: Gilbert Arenas, no. 34
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Holly MacKenzie
Six-year deal. $111 million dollars. Two NBA seasons. 15 games.
Gilbert Arenas is watching. Reading. Listening. Creeping your Twitter timelines.
Oh, you didn’t know? You assumed just because he hasn’t jumped on board the Twitterwagon, hadn’t blogged in a minute or balled full out for the past two seasons that he lost steps both oncourt and off? Nah, he didn’t.
While Arenas will always receive flak from some for his outspoken nature, fun-loving antics and somewhat misunderstood ways, one thing that cannot ever be denied is his ability to connect with his fans. Besides his gregarious demeanor, two seasons ag, Gil had the tech side down. With the blog and his Halo sponsored team he reached bookworms and gamers alike. Opting to toss -and pay for- his jersey into the crowd each night allowed those fans in the arena the chance to connect with a piece of him.
There really wasn’t another personality like him out there, let alone another one in the same league.
When number 0 becomes the number 1 option in the blink of an eye, it makes sense that the man behind the number isn’t going to follow a conventional path. Conventional would have never worked with Arenas because it is the exact opposite of what he is.
He was a free agent who gave his team back 16 million dollars, signing for less than the max available because “what can I do for my family with $127 million that I can’t do for $111?” He was the rookie that would lick donuts and sprinkle them with baby powder before serving them to his veterans for his daily duty. The guy who once took a shower -in his uniform and bball shoes- during halftime because he was having a bad game. The son who’s room remained adorned with the Penny Hardaway posters in his father’s house even after he became an NBA star himself. The superstar who dropped 60 on the Lakers and has 26 career 40+-point games to his credit.
Bet you forgot that last stat, didn’t you?
While the past two years have been brutal for Arenas, thanks to back-to-back-to-back knee surgeries (on a knee that is now adorned with seven tattooed crosses almost seeming to serve as battle scars), despite his desire to keep his comeback underwraps, the hype is both undeniable and unavoidable. Thanks to twitter (shout out to you, @AI9 for starting it all with your “Runs at attack were pretty good today, gilbert arenas is back like he left his black card!” announcement to kick things off), a streetball game and some media coverage, the countdown to the 2009-2010 NBA season is also the countdown to the comeback.
Coincidentally, yesterday, washingtonwizards.com releasted video footage of Arenas working out over the offseason in Chicago with Tim Grover. Yes. Arenas is jumping back into the spotlight. He has to. Since he became a starter back in Golden State he hasn’t known how to be anything else.
While it was he who was the one to embrace blogging and have the title of the NBA’s first blog superstar, the way in which we distribute information to the masses has evolved in the past two years. In other words, while Gilbert has a game to prove relevant, he no longer is in a small handful of NBA players sharing their thoughts with the world.
See, in the two years that Gilbert Arenas was all but removed from the NBA, the league has changed. A lot. Allen Iverson went from All-Star to an all-around painful storyline to follow. Shaquille O’Neal went from injured in Miami, revived in Phoenix and humble in Cleveland to appearing in an awkward weekly television show that has him playing other athletes at their sport. Stephon Marbury has gone from NBA point guard to, well, we still don’t really know, but it hasn’t been pretty. Kobe has ring number four. Adam Morrison has ring number one. Fact is, it’s a different NBA.
Arenas is a riddle in this NBA landscape that hasn’t quite been solved yet.
One thing that is entirely clear is how aware he is of the things that are being written about him both in print and online. We sometimes forget how media-saavvy he is because of the child-like joy he insists on playing with.
Prankster. Trickster. Joker. Take your pick to describe one who is forever young and having fun and you’ve got the beginning of Gil. From the blogging to the balling, the off-the-wall answers to the crazy antics that would leave you shaking your head, Gilbert is a player who has always worn a smile when he was oncourt.
Gil is a basketball player. Robbing him of that joy, a thief in the form of a knee injury has been the quickest way to eliminate that smile.
While he plastered one on when he was with his teammates, pushing them during workouts, games and practices and while he grinned freely as he suprised his girlfriend with a proposal last summer (that he tricked her into reading aloud to him, in true Arenas fashion), the smile that we are so familiar with shone brighter than ever in a two-game return this past season that saw him rack up 20 assists to just two turnovers and had people raving about this more mature Agent 0.
Just as the offseason hit and the news was that he was getting closer to being back for good, the smile was gone. Gil was gone. The voice we had grown accustomed to hearing was quiet. The blogging stopped as Arenas didn’t want to speak about his rehab any more, shifting his focus soley on getting himself right so he could get back.
As Gil was silenced, something new began to take the NBA by storm.
While this has been the summer of his rehab and comeback, it has also been the summer of Twitter. Gil may have been attempting to shy away from the attention for this offseason, but his fellow-NBAer’s ensured the buzz stayed on him through their twitter accounts. Couple the tweets with some streetball pickup games where Gil’s game was on full display, including drives to the hoop and a dunk to let everyone know he hadn’t left anything behind on the practice court where he had spent so long rehabbing and the countdown was on.
Yet still, the doubters persist. He won’t be the same. He can’t be. He’s a waste of money. Brittle. Weak. More concerned with having fun than winning basketball games.
To each and every one of you, peep the memo: He can hear you.
He knows how this story goes. He also knows how it feels to sit on the sidelines for not one, but two NBA seasons unable to help your team or prove you’re worth the money that team invested in you. Gilbert Arenas has been shattering glass ceilings and redefining any and all limitations placed upon him over his lifetime. This will be no different.
While Gilbert Arenas has “retired from blogging” and resisted joining the NBA Twitter army, he has remained at the top of the list for conversation topics as we head into this 2009-2010 NBA season. This is because his star is that bright. Two years removed (save for those 15 games) he remains relevant. Even with a drop, doubling from the 17th spot last offseason to the 34th this year, the words an optimistic Arenas spoke to SLAM’s own Myles Brown a year ago seem to take on more meaning this time around, “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.”
All reports are saying he is healthy. And if 17 wasn’t his number, 34 surely isn’t. With support from fellow Wizards teammates, new coach Flip Saunders and all of his fans who need their boy out there, the NBA is waiting to welcome Agent 0 with open arms. Beyond individual stats, a new-look Gilbert and/or a pass-first mentality, having a healthy Arenas in the arena every night is the goal.
While 34 will seem like a harsh ranking to some who read this and believe in Arenas and like a gift to others who think he is done, for this ranking it really isn’t about the number. It’s about the name. Gilbert Arenas is on this top 50 list because he is back. After rehabbing through surgeries, those seven crosses also serving as a reminder of all that he has pushed through, he is ready to start climbing the list.
And don’t get the lack of Twitter account twisted. Arenas will find a way to once again move to the forefront of the media game in the L. It’s just what he does. Connecting. That’s him.
From Zero to hero to hibachi. Or, something like that.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.