Utter the name Gilbert Arenas in Washington D.C. these days and you would be extremely lucky to be met with a favorable response. His name is likely to evoke memories of guns, season ending suspensions, immaturity and unfulfilled promise. Despite the word association probably being right on there, I think that's a little bit unfortunate.
No doubt Gilbert's exit from the Wizards and the D.C. area was a shameful mess: a faded superstar and convicted felon who became embroiled in an armed argument with a teammate over a card game shipped off to Florida for a slightly less burdensome contract in almost-as-faded former All Star Rashard Lewis. Admittedly, at the end of his time in Washington, Gilbert did little to endear himself to the fans that embraced him so fervently in in his first few years in a Wizards jersey. By the time the team completed the trade with Orlando for Lewis, most fans couldn't wait to get rid of him.
I remember all of that vividly and is still kills me to this day. But that's not all I remember about Gilbert and his time with the Wizards and I think Gilbert deserves better. He is, as of this writing in the fall of 2013, the best player I have seen play for the Wizards and that's why his quote uttered after his insane buzzer beater against Milwaukee in January 2007 and immortalized in magnet form in the photograph above (magnet purchased directly from the official Gilbert Arenas store), is the inspiration for the title of this blog.
The first time I ever thought of Gilbert Arenas as a Wizard was at my parents' house in 2003. I was watching the NBA playoffs with my dad when the ticker at the bottom of whatever channel we were watching announced that Gilbert had won the 2002-03 NBA Most Improved Player Award. I remember turning to my dad and saying "the Wizards should sign THAT guy!" A couple of months later, they did, giving the future Agent Zero as much cash as we had to spend after only two years in the league. I had no idea who Gilbert was really but I had a feeling this deal would work out.
For some reason (and I still don't know to this day why), I received an e-mail from the Wizards inviting me to the press conference to introduce Gilbert Arenas to the Washington, D.C. area. Over my 13 plus years as a season ticket holder, I have received invitations to all sorts of things but never before and never again to a press conference. I happily took time off work in a hurry that day and my friend Mike and I went over to the press room in Verizon Center and sat with members of the media and about six other fans to hear Gilbert speak for the first time as a Wizard and guarantee the team would make the playoffs. Strange stuff!
That first year Gil was on the team we didn't make the playoffs. But the next year in 2005 we did, and Gilbert looked like a prophet. Playoff hoops were back in DC for the first time since 1997. We faced the Bulls in the first round that year and won in six, taking a critical game five in Chicago on a game winning buzzer beater from Gilbert over Kirk Hinrich before being swept by the Miami Heat in the second round. The next year, the team returned to the playoffs, making it back to back for the first time since 1988, but lost to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. Despite the early playoff exit, Gilbert's star was still on the rise.
The next year, Gilbert came back hungrier than ever. He'd always been a notorious gym rat and everyone knew he played with a giant chip on the shoulder of his number zero jersey (selected because detractors said that's how many minutes of playing time he would get in college when he committed to the University of Arizona), but during the 2006-2007 season he took his performance to another level. Before the Wizards lost Antawn Jamison to injury just before the All Star break, they were in first place in the Eastern Conference and Gilbert was the number one reason.
Moments of pro basketball glory have been fleeting at best in D.C. since I became a Wizards season ticket holder. But if there's a time I felt like we were on top of the world, it was during the 2006-2007 season. I don't know whether it was the microfiber composite basketball the NBA introduced that year or what, but for a few months that year, Gilbert was arguably the best and most exciting player in the NBA. There were trade rumors in the press about Gilbert and Kobe Bryant and people in Washington were upset about the possibility of "downgrading" to Kobe.
Gilbert scored a franchise record 60 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in an overtime game in L.A. in mid-December that year and followed it up with 54 a few days later against Phoenix. He also killed the Utah Jazz hopes for victory on Martin Luther King day at Verizon Center with a three at the buzzer and was voted to the Eastern Conference All Star team as a starter, rocketing past Jason Kidd in the last few weeks to take the second starting guard spot. Ultimately, he finished third in the NBA in scoring average that year with a 28.4 points per game average. My statement in the previous paragraph about Gil being the best in the league may seem silly now, but I stand behind it all the way.
The Wizards ultimately did not secure the top playoff seed in the East that year. After we lost Antawn Jamison to injury, we also lost Caron Butler to a broken hand then ultimately Gilbert also went down with an injury. The Wizards ended up as the seventh seed that year and got swept by the hated Cavaliers in the first round. The knee injury suffered by Gilbert, a late first period fluke play against the Charlotte Bobcats' Gerald Wallace, would effectively kill his career. He shouldn't have even been playing at that time in the game but he was benched that game because he failed to show up on time for shootaround earlier in the day. In a way, it was poetic justice of the cruelest kind.
Despite the 28.4 points per game average, the three consecutive All Star game appearances and the franchise record single game scoring mark, the best moment for me as a Gilbert Arenas era Washington Wizards fan came on January 3, 2007 against the Milwaukee Bucks. I watched that game from our seats in Section 109 and I remember vividly my friend Mike calling for the Wizards to take a timeout as Gil advanced the ball with a few seconds left. I knew Gil had the Bucks back on their heels and when he rose up and shot the ball and turned to go to the locker room before the shot even hit the net, he created one of my best Wizards fan moments ever. That moment is why his quote that night is the title of my blog. I'll always remember Gilbert's time in D.C. as a positive. Nobody can take that away from me.