Friday, October 9, 2009

Gilbert Arenas: From Zero To Hero Then Back To Zero

UNTIL he went down with a left knee injury that required surgery, Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas was one of the NBA's top superstars, an explosive scorer that would also proved to be a constant thorn on the side of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in their quest for an NBA title.

But over the last two seasons, Arenas or Agent Zero as he is fondly called by fans and drumbeaters alike, has only played a total of 15 games and without him, his team is nowhere near the playoff contenders they once were. Now injury-free and with a renewed commitment to be a better and more dimensional player than his reputation as a jump shooter suggests, Arenas is once again starting from scratch. Back to zero, actually.

With a new coach, more talented teammates and a much serious demeanor in stark contrast to the cartoonish, carefree personality that endeared him to fans but somewhat alienated him to former coaches and teammates, Arenas is out not just to reclaim his all-star status but also his team's place among the NBA's elite.

I've had the chance to be given an opportunity to have a 15-minute one-on-one interview with Agent Zero last year when he was in town to promote his own line of Gil Zero shoes by Adidas including the now popular Hibachi, which he himself named. Gilbert was actually a very genial guy, answering my questions about his pretty bumpy road to success, his rivalry with LeBron James and the Cavaliers, his supposed trash-talking rep, his fashion sense and of course, those Gil Zero shoes. He was even more than happy to pose with me in the nice photo below.

Here are excerpts from my Gilbert Arenas feature that was published by the Manila Bulletin back around July of 2008.


VERY few success stories are as awe-inspiring as that of NBA superstar Gilbert Arenas. An unheralded player who rose from obscurity to become the cornerstone of the Washington Wizards, the sweet-shooting point guard known as Agent Zero succeeded where other former franchise players (from Chris Webber to Mitch Richmond to even the great Michael Jordan) failed—make the team relevant and exciting again.

Recently in town for the Adidas Agent Zero Tour 2008, Arenas attributes his success to good old-fashioned dedication and hard work. Drafted 31st in the second round of the 2001 draft by the Golden State Warriors, he candidly admitted during an exclusive one-on-one interview with us that he was “hurt” he wasn’t picked in the first round where people were telling him “with my talents, I was supposed to go from the top 10 to 15.”

Arenas recalled in one of his Adidas commercials that he was initially a benchwarmer at the beginning of his basketball career. Making the most out of his meager minutes in the hardcourt, he quickly rose to prominence to become one of the league’s most promising talents.

Ironically, the number one overall pick of that same draft belonged to his present team, the Washington Wizards and the team chose Kwame Brown, now considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time. So in hindsight, the Wizards could have had their franchise player right off the bat even back then. All Arenas did was win the NBA Most Improved Player Award in 2003, become a three-time NBA All-Star and hold his team’s all-time franchise record for most three-point field goals made.

He has also evolved into one of the most colorful and outspoken personalities in not just the NBA but in all of sports as a whole. He is the only NBA player to wear jersey number 0, a reference to the phrase “from zero to hero” that he once heard a kid say. It’s the same phrase that he adopted as a tagline of sorts to the kind of athlete and person that he has become. An accomplished and award-winning blogger who has also conceptualized some of his own hilarious “GilTV” commercials for Adidas, he has been vocal about predicting his own game-winning shots and games his team would win.

Gilbert Arenas and myself.

During our interview, he was more than candid about the Wizards’ growing and increasingly personal rivalry with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that eliminated them from playoff contention over the last three NBA seasons. “We don’t even pay attention to them,” he declares. “We feel that when we’re healthy, they’re not even in our category. We don’t consider them as a threat. Unfortunately, they’ve been beating us when we’re not healthy.”

But for all the things he is known to say and do, Arenas is surprisingly not known for being an on-court trash talker, unlike many NBA superstars. “I talk trash before the game and after the game but never during,” he points out. “I don’t know why but maybe it has something to do with the fact that when I was little, I was actually shy. I just get the job done and that’s it so even when I started playing better, it never changed.”

One thing Arenas isn’t shy about is how he carries himself off the court. One of the NBA’s best looking players is also one of its more dapper dressers. Aside from his Adidas sports wear, he also loves to don signature clothing by the likes of Thomas Pink, Ferragamo, Prada and Louis Vuitton. “Up until last year, I was a more casual, laid-back dresser,” he admits. “This year, I’m going back to the older days like in the 70’s and the 60’s like Frank Sinatra, who used to dress up for everything so I wear a lot of suits. I bought 82 suits for 82 games and I have a lot of other stuff that I can wear off the court so when you see me, I’m a little more presentable.”

And yes, Agent Zero is more than thrilled not just to have his own series of Gil Zero basketball shoes by Adidas, but also to be given an active hand in personally designing them. “You know when you’re little, you put on your Michael Jordans and you tell your friends, yeah, I’m gonna have my own shoe one day. You know in your heart that you’re lying and your friends know that you’re lying but for it to actually happen, it’s been great,” he enthuses.

In designing the latest Gil Zero collection, Arenas, who admits to prefer the more versatile low-cut shoes to the high-cut kicks that most players favor, is guided by the simple principle that these shoes should not be just for people who play basketball. “There’s more everybody else than those who play basketball,” he rationalizes. “I want the regular public to buy my shoes and not just those who play the sport. You could wear them with jeans, shorts or whatever and they’ll look nice.”

The Adidas Gil Zero collection is still available in Adidas Performance concept stores and other athletic shops nationwide.

Here's the best of Gilbert Arenas:

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