The transition from most-loved to most-hated isn’t a rare sight to see for today’s athletes. The old adage “First they hate you then they love you then they hate you again” has become somewhat of a defining statement for some players’ careers, from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James.
Resilience and the ability to block everything out is what helps the great players succeed despite the criticism, and that’s what Gilbert Arenas has. So it’s only a matter of time before he bounces back as well.
Gilbert has put Washington Wizards fans through a lot, and he knows it. He was definitely not in many peoples good graces following the Javaris Crittenton incident that earned him a weapons charge and a stint in a halfway house. By missing most of the season (again) due to an NBA suspension, Arenas became a scapegoat for the Wizards’ fall from a borderline Eastern Conference contender just a few years ago to a Lottery team.
Luckily, Washington won the Lottery last spring and landed John Wall, but Arenas still has some making up to do. At first it was widely assumed Arenas would be traded during the offseason, but the organization stuck by their All-Star guard, and he’s been working slowly but surely on earning his fans back.
There were some missteps along the way — like when he admitted pretending to be hurt during the preseason in order to miss a game and let Nick Young have his playing time — but on the court, Arenas has been solid. He dropped 30 points and 7 three-pointers against the Bulls on the road, and in his first start of the season (when Wall was out injured), Arenas had 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in a win over Toronto.
In an interview after that Raptors game, Arenas was asked about the positive ovation he received from the D.C. fans when his name was announced in the starting lineup.
“It surprised me, especially when I had a rough summer,” Arenas said. “All the stuff I’m reading, I thought the fans were just going to murder me”.
Where he was once marketed as the League’s most likable comedian, after the gun incident, the media turned Gilbert into one of the NBA’s bad guys. But it’s clear to see that he feeds off the hate — everyone knows where he got the nickname “Agent Zero” from — so don’t expect Gilbert’s game to be affected by the outside negativity.
Though questioned at the time, holding on to Gilbert may have been one of the better decisions in franchise history for the Wizards. He has a track record of individual success in the postseason and a resume full of clutch daggers and buzzer-beaters. He averaged 34 points per game in the ’06 playoffs, and handed Kobe 60 points in one game in L.A. later that calendar year. There was a time not too long ago when Gilbert was perhaps the most exciting player in the League and one of its Top 10 or 15 players overall. He has led the Wizards to success before, and he can do it again alongside Wall if he stays healthy.
Winning the John Wall sweepstakes was exactly what the franchise needed. Some believe a starting backcourt of Wall and Arenas can’t work because they’re too small, but at 6-4, Gilbert has been going head-to-head with elite shooting guards for years, and Wall has good size for a point guard. (Not to mention, Washington has Kirk Hinrich and Nick Young coming off the bench.) And whatever the two lack in size, they can make up for in quickness and tenacity. Or in Gilbert’s case, resiliency.
Assuming Gilbert can stay on the court and Wall blasts through the rookie wall, the Wizards will be a dangerous team as the season progresses. Wall and Arenas are one of the most explosive backcourts in the League, competing with the likes of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry in Golden State, and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in San Antonio. It’s going to take a lot more cohesiveness within the offense and consistency in terms of shot distribution, but all of that will come with time for two players that are willing passers and effective scorers.
Believe it or not, Gilbert survived the rebuilding process for a reason. Some still believe the Wizards made the wrong move in sticking with Gilbert, but he will prove them wrong and the fans are happy to have him back. It goes to show that you shouldn’t always give up on a player when he’s going through a rough time. I know I sure wish my hometown Atlanta Falcons would’ve stood by Mike Vick.