The NBA, North America's professional basketball league, has a new star. Before Gilbert Arenas arrived, the Washington Wizards languished at the bottom of the standings. Two years ago Arenas led the Wizards to their first playoff appearance since 1998 and he was also selected to play in his first NBA All-Star Game. At first, Arenas did not get much attention outside Washington: last August he failed to make the U.S. national team that played in the world championships. But this season just about everyone in the basketball world is talking about Gilbert Arenas.
Sportscaster: "Now they get it to Arenas with two seconds…one… [He] fires for the win … Got it [made the basket] at the buzzer!"
Even with game-winning shots like this one against the Philadelphia 76ers, Gilbert Arenas says he gets no respect in the NBA. "This is the NBA. No one respects no one. You can be the number-one team, no one's going to respect that."
Arenas is a local hero in Washington, where he has helped turn the Washington Wizards into a playoff-caliber team, but he has not been considered among the elite players in professional basketball...
...Until this year, that is, when he has been arguably the hottest player in the NBA, leading the Wizards to one of the best records in the Eastern Conference. This season the 25-year-old Arenas seems to be scoring at will. He has so far made 11 last-second "buzzer beater" shots, scored a career-high 60 points in one game, and was named the conference player of the month for December. Why is he suddenly so hot?
Arenas says winning is important to him. "I think winning. You know, we're winning. You know that December we had was a great December... for me and for the team. Last year I didn't hit the stride until after All-Star break. So I think early winning successes have boosted me."
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan says, while winning may draw more media attention to Arenas, he is no different than in the past. "Gilbert is the same to me. He's just scoring more, that's all. He's always been this way. He's always been competitive. He's always taken the bull by the horns and been aggressive."
Until now, superstars such as Cleveland's Lebron James, Miami's Dwyane Wade and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant have overshadowed Arenas, who was the 31st player selected in the 2001 NBA draft.
Washington Times sports columnist Tom Knott says the experts did not expect Arenas to reach basketball's top echelon. "I think Arenas, for whatever reason throughout his career, has been overlooked. He was a second-round [draft] pick. He wasn't highly recruited out of high school. He came in the NBA and played some his rookie season, but he is just an odd character, an off-beat character."
Arenas has a quirky or eccentric reputation both on and off the court. His home has special air-conditioning equipment that thins the air to simulate a high-altitude environment, and he throws his jersey into the stands at the end of every game. As a free agent he even flipped a coin to choose which NBA team he would play for. That's how he ended up in Washington.
Teammate Antawn Jamison says Arenas is also known for training harder and longer than anyone else. "I recall his rookie year he was in the gym [until] two or three o'clock in the morning, working on his game. And still, to this day, he is the first one in and the last one to leave. So that's the major reason why he's at this point in his career. And he's one of the best in the league, also."
Tom Knott agrees that Arenas' work ethic is the reason for his success.
"It's a cliché in sports: guy works hard”, says Knott, “And half the time it is just bogus [not true]. They're not really working that hard. They're not probably working as hard as you and me. They're going to practice for two hours and [then] ... they got 22 hours to kill. That's not hard working. But this Arenas guy, no, he's a maniac. He does work hard."
For Gilbert Arenas all the hard work is paying off. "It's satisfying to me that, you know, I was a second-round pick. No one believed in me. Now, you know, you carry a team on your back to how far you can carry them. Right now, we're where we're at."
Right now Gilbert Arenas is at the top of his game.