DimeMag

Gilbert Arenas Is Still Complicated, And He’ll Never Quit

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LOS ANGELES – If it’s possible to delete FaceTime off his phone, Gilbert Arenas says he did it, or he found a way to turn that toggle off. He’s still learning Instagram on the fly to immense success as he’s amassed almost 700,000 followers without a major media deal, posting videos around Beverly Hills or his home in the Valley, clips of his No Chill podcast, memes, and of course, footage of himself shooting. He also recently joined the Big3, but was quick to let everyone know he didn’t join the league to pass the ball.

Arenas isn’t the type to relax, and he wouldn’t know how if you asked him to.

The same monomaniacal focus and unique personality turned Arenas into one of the best scorers in the league, earned him notoriety in the pre-social media era as an early pioneer of athlete-first content, and led to an infamous flame out starting with an incident that to this day doesn’t even seem real (bringing loaded guns into the locker room over $1,100 then-teammate Javaris Crittenton owed him following a card game on the team plane).

That was 10 years ago now, and Arenas is still working out his place in the basketball ecosystem. He’s had missteps on social media, including some blatantly sexist Instagram comments in 2015 he never really apologized for, an inexcusable and baffling post about dark-skinned women in 2017, and an ill-planned marketing stunt for his now-defunct Complex show with Mia Khalifa that same year.

Contrition isn’t Arenas’ strong suit, nor is reflecting on the past. It’s part of what molded him into such a fierce competitor, as he wouldn’t back down from anybody, and never remembered a missed shot, instead always focusing on the next one. It’s also what pushed him out of the league almost as quickly as he was elevated to star status in the first place.

If the game is going to remember him fondly as more than a footnote while peers — and friends — like Paul Pierce and Caron Butler get high profile broadcasting gigs, it’s time for him to embrace the parts of Hibachi that made him so beloved as a player, while scaling back (or at least self editing) those misguided attempts at humor or unfiltered discussion that got him here in the first place. Basketball isn’t what it was in 2009. Humor, or what’s perceived as humor, isn’t either. Trolling or otherwise, words have an impact. And if Arenas can’t evolve with the times, he might be left behind.

The podcast is a big part of those efforts. He can still say what he wants — No Chill highly emphasized — about other players and where the game is headed without fear of oversight or the big backing from a network. There will always be a part of Arenas who needs that; the question becomes whether or not saying what he wants is more important to him than being idolized. He’s a star in the Valley, and always will be, after a spectacular career at Ulysses S Grant High School took him to Arizona and onto the NBA. This is home to him, the place where he still gets shots up in the gym every day and plays in weekly card games. Younger players look up to him, and he gives advice to everyone from Shareef O’Neal to Jayson Tatum.

But Agent Zero can be more. He seems like he wants to be more. It starts with balance, channeling the dynamic personality that can be his best asset or enemy depending on the day. Poolside at the home that influencer and motivational speaker Tai Lopez uses for his business operations in Beverly Hills, which doubles as where Arenas records his podcast, the former Wizards star is as blunt as ever.

It’s clear he still has plenty to say. It’s just a matter of whether or not he still has an audience out there who cares to listen.

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What do [players] come to you for now? How do they find you?

When I was in the NBA, I was known for my work ethic and working. Let’s say I played against an elite player, against Jamal Crawford and he did a move in a game. I would ask him, “Yo, yo. How did you do that move? Because I’m going to put that in and I’m writing it, okay?” He went “boom, boom, boom.” Alright cool, I’m gonna call that the Jamal Crawford. And I was doing that!

So in the summer, I get there and I would have this f*cking eight page, ten page book with a hundred moves in it that I got from NBA players. That I seen, that was nice, and I just worked on that in the summer and added to my game.

Yeah, you Kirby’d them, absorbed their powers.

Everyone used to be like, “Yo where the book at? I want the book! I know you got some moves in the book!” So, players was like … John Wall always calls me, especially if he has a problem going on or if he’s watching last nights game like, “What were they doing?” “Well they’re leaning towards this side, so you have to develop going to this side or fake it or take it. You don’t need to settle for the jump-shot all the time because they’re giving it to you. Clean up that space.”

So John Wall, every year, like clockwork, he’s calling me.

Tatum hit me this year and our schedule, because training camp was coming to close and you know, Boston said they didn’t want to do interviews and have people come in. To focus on training. I understood that, so I should have had them earlier or I’ll get them during the season, working on regiment. People want the secret to be successful. And you could tell, certain guys, they want the ball in their hand all the time. They want to be working.

Some guys, they got the talent, that’s good. They do what they need to do to get out.

Tatum’s one of those guys.

Tatum wants to get better. Some guys, they’re gifted, and sometimes their gift is all they need. “I’m cool with being what I am.” They don’t want to put that extra work in to be dominant. Some players are scared of dominance. That fear! That scares people!

That work ethic doesn’t go away though, so how do you stay satiated? You got to be doing something. This is one of those things, the podcast.

Yeah, what’s so funny is I wake up six o’clock in the morning, ride my bike around the neighborhood, like about five miles, ten miles just to get my day going. The hard part, when people ask me, “What is retired life like?” I say it’s hard, because when you’re growing up and you’re playing sports, your time is accounted for. So if I’m training at this time, sleeping at this time, waking up at this time to go the game. You have this schedule down pat. So, when you’re done playing and you’re sitting there at 11 o’clock like, “Ohhh what do I do?”

Turn on the TV for 30 minutes, you’re trying to figure how to … So it’s not a whole day that’s f*cking with you as a retired [player], it’s moments in a day where it was taken. There was something to do.

And you’re sitting there just trying to figure out how to take up this space. So, if you ever look at Instagram and you want to see what retired players do? Look at that time, from eleven to one. What are they posting? You know, “I’m golfing!” They’re figuring out how to take up that time that was taken up. And that was the hardest thing. Trying to figure out how to put something in that empty space.

Now put something in that empty space that’s competitive, ’cause you can’t cold turkey nothing. It’s hard. When you look at Shaq and them and think about it, it makes perfect sense with Shaq and Webber to go back to commentate, because what fills part of the time? Basketball time. So when the game’s going on, they’re back in their mode.

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Is that something that you ever want to do? Commentating? Or is it that you like to be in that space where you’re at now?

I like the space because I’ve figured out how to get through the day in that space, and if you asked me, “What do you do?” A bunch of nothing! And that’s the funny part, is it’s a bunch of nothing. I wake up, do my five to ten miles, drive the gym, look around for about an hour. Some days, I’ll work out and then some days, I convince myself, I didn’t even lift weights when I played, so why would I lift weights now? I don’t want to look like I just body build all day. That looks stupid. I sit there and do that all day and then I go shoot and that’s my workout.

But for some reason, I don’t know why I actually go to the gym to lift weights and I never lift. And then I go and get my shots up, watch five minutes of TV, fall asleep, wake up from the nap, go back to the gym to do the same thing.

Because you gotta shoot.

Yeah, I gotta shoot! When it comes to shooting because there’s a meter, I can keep challenging myself, over and over. I can sit there for hours and hours and still, f*ck, you know? Get 94 out of 100 [shots to go down] and it’s like, “I said 98!”

Who most closely resembles the work that you put in that’s probably playing now?

You know what’s so funny, it’s hard, because I physically can’t see how much work someone’s putting in. But, you know, if I had to look at their consistency in shooting and how they’re playing, you got to say [Steph] Curry. I can tell he probably sits in the gym all f*cking day.

You can’t shoot like that if you don’t.

No, no you can’t. You can’t shoot those shots if you’re not putting up hundreds of shots a day. I had to call up one of my teammates, this was the year he was on flames, and I remember calling Laron Profit.

He was like, “Yo, you see Curry today?”

I said, “Quick question! I shot the ball a lot, right? In practice.”

He was like, “Hey man, you worked out more than anybody I know and he worked out a lot too!”

And I said, “How many f*cking shots do you think Curry takes a day? I know I shot the ball, but I didn’t shoot it on that level.”

And he said this, “You did shoot it on that level at a certain period of time. The last five minutes, you shot the ball amazing.”

He shoots like that the whole game.

His best shot to me is when he shook up Chris Paul. He shook it, boom boom boom, split. Looking his way, turned around and chucked it and I’m like, “Yo! Yo! Yo!” And I see Steph Curry like, what the f*ck! I was like, “I just couldn’t do that!”

With all that stuff that has changed now over the years, you were just a couple years too early on so much of that stuff — to the blog, or Twitter and all that. Or even just the way you shot the ball. Do you think that your style of ball would be more acceptable if you had just started your career in 2011?

No, because you’ve got to remember, there had to be players who did it. I was a player, AI, you can say Marbury’s more of a point guard than he was me and Iverson type was. Iverson was considered a two-guard. I was a point. So when you fast forward to now, the Currys, the Kyries, it’s acceptable. Then, you could say that I was considered a ball hog even though I played with two guys who also averaged 20.

I wasn’t a ball hog. My game didn’t affect their game. I’m not creating for them, because these two guys were creators. So, me driving and passing it to Caron [Butler], Caron is like, “Yo, you don’t need to create a shot for me. Just give me the ball, I’ll create my own shot.” But now, it’s acceptable, because when you winning, it’s acceptable.

I tell kids, there’s a lot of levels to it. He’s a guard. He’s not a point, he’s not a two, he’s a guard. If you tell Curry to average ten assists, he will average ten assists, because that’s his ability. If you tell him to score 30, he’ll score 30, that’s his ability. So when you take them both and say, which one do you want? Do you want the Curry that has the ten assists or do you want the Curry that can have his 30?

Sh*t, I want 30. Because he’s deadly at 30. I don’t know, if he doesn’t have the ball in his hand trying to put that ball in the basket, he’s not as dangerous.

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Paul Pierce is one of your guys, right? His big thing is honesty. He’s not pulling punches ever and it’s got to be hard with a lot of those guys who get these public personas now.

If you didn’t already have that rep that you can speak your mind, do whatever you want, it’s hard to back your way into it. You kind of had to be honest from the the get-go, cause now there’s hurt feelings. Image is so hard, because people don’t understand there’s a yin and there’s a yang.

So you look at your Tiger Woods, your Michael Jordans, your LeBron James, your Serena Williams. They’re in the yin, but there’s always an opposite of that, you know? Your Kanye Wests, your Allen Iversons, sh*t who else is … I mean is Mayweather? I don’t know which side he goes on. He’s a yang compared to someone like Pacquiao, in a sense. No one wants to be a villain anymore. Everyone wants to be liked and loved, but that’s not how the world is, is it?

There’s a balance.

But then you got to remember, when someone sees, okay this is how Michael Jordan did it, this is how this person did it, I want to follow that. But that might not be who you are as a person. Shaq did his own thing. He’s a goofball, did this, he didn’t really follow. He made his own path. You look at somebody like [Joel] Embiid. He’s a good baller and with personalities like that it’s so hard, because that is your natural personality.

But, what happens when he can’t win? What is the media going to do?

He’s immature, he’s never serious, it’s like, “Wait, you just loved me last year! You know, I’m Embiid, hey! I’m this guy, I’m the troll!” That’s why I’m saying when you’re winning, you can do whatever you want. You losing? Oh, that’s a no-no. I learned that from Kevin Garnett.

Yeah.

What he did on the court was considered passion. When [DeMarcus] Cousins does it, it’s called an attitude. Kevin Garnett, oh yeah, you can’t get these motherf*ckers. Yelling in their face. Slapping the ball. Well that’s passion. Either you’re passionate or you have an attitude problem. You pick one. You can’t just go for winners and losers.

You can naturally get your way from one to the other, but you are who you are.

Yeah, you are who you are. And, I think that’s what ends up happening to people is you try to make someone be something that they’re not.

Some guys can be both.

They can be both. Russell [Westbrook] is just strictly, I’m the bad guy. Everything he do is hard. I mean that guy is one pace and he makes it hard because of how he plays. But he even makes it hard for you to root for him! That’s why he’s the bad guy.

No matter how you look at him, no matter what he does, you’re like, “Ah f*ck, he averaged a triple-double? F*ck!” You just like, “Yo, he averaged a triple-double per game. F*ck him!” But that’s when you know you’re doing something amazing.

What about those pickup games you used to play in?

In D.C. my personality was just as big as I did on the court. So, I have a whole generation of kids outside of basketball, that are like, “That’s our guy!” When I played in pick-up games, I’m trying to score all the points. Like, “Yo, pass the ball!”

Listen, I don’t pass the ball to millionaires. I for sure ain’t gonna pass you the ball. I can tell you that right now. You can get that sh*t out your mind.

What’s so funny is when I first stopped playing, I played in a rec league. No one got the ball. They had to quadruple team me for me to think about passing the ball. Serious. I was like 68 [points per game] in the league. Like what you gonna do? I’m not gonna pass it to you. I was making 15 million, and he barely got the ball from me.

So when you see Gil Arenas you like, “Yo, he came here down at 68!” That’s what a pro looks like.

How much pick-up you playing these days?

I play every Saturday. 24 Hour Fitness in the morning with the young kids. But it’s just that, it’s just to keep moving. I’m not trying to be out there to prove a point.

You just like shooting.

But I’ll go out there and talk sh*t. I got one good game in me of sh*t-talking.

You’re never going to get rid of that though? That’s always in you.

No. But I never really did it in the game. That’s the funny part, I never really talk sh*t during the game. I just, I don’t know, I’ll talk before the game and certain shots in the game if someone’s speaking from the bench or something. But I never really talked trash to a player. I tell players that I look at today’s game and it’s like they want to embarrass you by shaking you. I wanted to embarrass you by scoring 50, 60. That was my embarrassing. When you go home, you sitting there with your girl like, “Yeah, I don’t feel like it tonight.”

That was the feeling I want. Like “I don’t feel like it tonight, baby.” That’s the feeling I want to get in. Shaking you for one play and then I finish and I got seven points? Nah.

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Does it surprise you at all how popular that Wizards team is with people?

It was one of those young teams. We were basically, not as young, but it was like that … the OKC team where James Harden was. You have so much potential there and then boom, it’s gone. And that’s basically what happened. We kept losing to LeBron and LeBron kept losing to Boston. But, at some point eventually you think you overcome it. We had a better team, they utilized their players better. Our game plan wasn’t bad, we just didn’t understand who he was at that moment. That first year, we didn’t understand who he was. We knew LeBron James. You know that. But, because you don’t know how his game ticks, we’re just playing him.

Alright, Jared Jeffries you guard him. Okay, [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas is out. Alright if, Ilgauskas is out, alright Brendan Haywood you’re out. Michael Ruffin, you’re in. Not knowing, when Ilgauskas go out, LeBron takes over. Now if LeBron takes over, you’re not talking about a 6’8 guy on paper. You’re talking about a 6’9, 6’10 guy jumping through the lane with a guy, who’s our setter, who’s actually 6’8. Lebron’s winning this battle and so we don’t understand that until you start watching the film and we’re like, “How is he doing this?”

I thought we had this man under control. He was docile, we’re up by 15, by 20, where we losing this game at? And then you start seeing the same pattern. They take out the big guy, we take out our big guy. He attacking. Cause now he’s technically the biggest force on the court.

But when you took the team and said, who’s better? We were better. We just didn’t understand what we were facing at that moment. So, when people say, “Yeah, they beat you three times.” No, they beat us one time. I was hurt the other two times where I wasn’t who I was at that moment. So yeah, we faced them and they beat that time but we only played against each other at full capacity once.

And then we traded Jeffries, which I thought was the biggest downfall of our team even though we came in and we got Caron [Butler] and DeShawn [Stevenson]. And we had very great success the following year and we were probably better on paper. But, when it came to logistics at that point, losing Jeffries was where we stopped climbing Mount Everest.

With you so much of it was precursors — the personal branding, the way the game’s played, how you treat yourself, how you embrace yourself. All are things that now, it’s okay, and it’s easy for guys to do that.

Back then, it was a different culture. It was a different culture when I came in and towards the end. I remember how people dressed before the dress code. And if you look at the dress code now, someone could argue and say, “What the … this is not a dress code.” Yeah, what is this? What are they wearing? You wearing a robe, you wearing shorts. That’s not part of this! No! This is not the dress code!

But, it’s not as bad as what it was before. It’s not sweatpants and chains and jewelry everywhere. I like it more because you had to go through a phase to get something that the players … you know you gotta remember before, there was no fashion for NBA players. Football players, if you look at through time they always the suits with the hats and the gator boots. That’s just … that’s their thing. NBA it was more baggy pants, you know their suits were baggy suits.

And then you put the hard dress code in and you put everybody on what I call it, the professional level. Yeah, but so now we’re like, “Yo everyone feels a little classy.” Now, once people got used to it, now these guys are now fashionable. So now when you look at guys and they’re fashion forward. So, it’s not a dress code anymore. It’s more fashionable now. Now these guys want to look good.

I’ve always been curious about the blog and where the genesis of that was. For me, it was like if Gilbert can do this, maybe someday I can do this too.

I think that there was two or three bloggers, blogging that season. I think [Mike] Dunleavy was one of them, it was called NBA Diary. It was called NBA Diary at the time. And then, they were looking for a third. I met with Dave [McMenamin] and then we did our first one and then it was a hit. And I was like, “Damn! I just gotta talk sh*t about the week I had? Fine.”

And that’s what it was, it was giving a weekly experience of what you went through. That’s what people wanted and I tell people, everyone sees the stars, but you don’t see them.

If I want to know about somebody, good or bad, okay, I pick up a paper. Oh, he did this or he did this. But, if I’m speaking on Sunday, you get to read it and everything. “Oh this guy is funny! It’s intriguing!” And I think that’s what it was, it was giving people an insight of an NBA players week. That’s all anybody ever wants.

It has to be the perfect person. If you followed Shaq and Kobe around, everyone’s tuning into Shaq. I remember when [Kobe] scored the 81. He scored the 81 and I tuned in for the press conference like, “Oh yeah, he’s gonna say, ‘Oh I was busting it,’ ’cause I know how he’s feeling.”

“So how does it feel to score?”

Oh yeah, today started off and my ankle was a little sore and I didn’t know if I was gonna play today. But, I just had the courage to …

And I’m sitting here like, “Uh.”

I’m going to go home and relax, reflect, watch a movie with my daughters and get ready for the next game.

That’s it?

He scored 81.

You scored 81! Start throwing some trash or something! So what’s funny is when I scored the 60, I go in the locker room like, “Yo, I just scored 60 on that motherf*cker right there. You can’t tell me sh*t, none of y’all tell me sh*t.”

Everyone’s laughing. And then coach said, “Yo, and we won!” What? I scored, yo, f*ck that, I scored 60 points on Kobe Bryant. And that’s how you supposed to be. I don’t give a sh*t what nobody talking about. This is coming and when coach tried to say … yo f*ck that. I scored. But that was the honest truth, like that was my emotion.

Because you’re human.

And that’s what I tell people. Kobe’s not human. He’s not. But, you’ve gotta understand how somebody gets that great.

He was that type, a disrupter.

That’s what I’m saying, I tell people, no matter how long you look at someone in an era or good or bad, whatever the change was it’s always for the better. That’s just how it is. That I got fined for then, that’s acceptable now. Colored shoes. I used to get fined a lot for colored shoes. ‘Cause then, it was either black or white. For me, I wanted to match the jersey so I wore all blue, wore all orange, came in all green, all red. And they didn’t like that then. Just like the colored socks, that wasn’t a thing.

Now you can wear whatever. Cause that’s what I remember, that’s when we were like, “Yo, yo what we wearing in the playoffs?” “We’re gonna wear all black or we’re gonna wear all white.”

What is this, the army? Really? What about these new orange joints, yo? These new orange ones, baby! So, then I had to wear them at half-time and then I had to take them off. You know, I had to play that whole little game with the NBA.

How much do you think you got fined total? Do you know?

By the NBA? Mostly when it came to the shoes, adidas picked it up, so.

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So what’s next then for you?

Trying to change the culture.

Of?

Just sports, because the biggest question for youth and everyone is, how do I get to the next level? Everyone’s always talking about, put in ten thousand hours, you know you hear it. But no one ever gives it. So it’s like when you look at the Lakers or any of these basketball organizations and who’s teaching the next generation, no one of substance.

Do you want to coach?

No.

You just want to show?

Yeah, I just want to show you. Like who’s on the Lakers staff teaching Lonzo Ball how to be a megastar work ethic-wise? None, because none of them were making stars. Ninety-five percent of all the coaches and trainers never were amazing players. So if you guys wasn’t amazing players, how can you make them amazing? Because work ethic alone, your mindset was only mediocre.

You’re giving him your mindset even though his talent is superstar. So now he has to try to find out how to be a superstar being trained by mediocre style. I tell players, listen, they told you to shoot 100 shots. Shoot 500 shots. Cause that’s what a superstar do. With me, I get to voice and give direction and give the answers that people actually look for in the sport.

It’s taking my talents here and taking it to China and trying to empower China’s basketball or whoever is looking to be empowered. Because you know, I was a scorer. I was a great scorer. I wasn’t the most athletic. I used my ability and took away his ability. I have a different way of looking at anything. So it’s trying to empower, you know whoever wants it.

And China is a big part of that.

I’m very big in China. In China, they have more registered basketball players than we have people in the United States. So you looking at all this and who’s going back and teaching them? They don’t know nothing about basketball, they just know run. Line drill, line drill, line drill. That’s not basketball. That’s not how you play basketball. I mean, you wanna make track stars, okay, yeah, and I used to tell coaches that too.

Hey listen, I did 28 line drills in a minute with the ball. Can I do the line drills with the basketball? That actually helps because I’m speed dribbling, I can learn how to dribble fast with the ball. That’s what I did. So, when I did line drills, I did it with the ball.

Yeah.

My timing wasn’t best, but I’m doing something that I’m gonna be doing, and that’s different thinking. I’m doing line drills, switching and touching the lines and this is more basketball than me just sitting here. I ain’t f*cking Kerry Kittles. I ain’t f*cking just running down there for no reason. But he was an amazing athlete.

I was hoping I would hear a Kerry Kittles reference.

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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