USA TODAY US Edition
Grizzlies’ Gilbert Arenas: ‘I don’t want to be noticed’
Content out of spotlight, he opens up on gun case
Why the NBA player who was convicted on gun charges stemming from a locker-room confrontation prefers the shadows.
Gilbert Arenas has been here for less than a month, living in a hotel near Fedex Forum.
He has gone from Agent Zero — a three-time All-star in six-plus seasons sporting No. 0 with the Washington Wizards — to the Invisible Man with the Memphis Grizzlies, a role player. He says he much prefers the shadows to the spotlight.
“No one knows me for throwing my jerseys or averaging 29 points (in 2005-06). All they know is I pulled a gun on my teammate. So I don’t want to be noticed,” Arenas tells USA TODAY Sports.
“When people say, ‘Aren’t you the basketball player?’ “‘No.’ “‘Aren’t you Agent Zero?’ “‘Not at all. It’s not me.’ “I don’t want to remember.” Arenas spent 30 days in a halfway house after being convicted on gun charges stemming from a locker room confrontation Dec. 21, 2009, with thenWizards teammate Javaris Crittenton. Arenas also had to perform 400 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine. He was suspended for 50 games without pay for 2009-10 by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
What Arenas says are misconceptions of what happened in that locker room still bother him.
“No one actually saw a gun in my hand at all. . . . I was not pulling a gun on anyone. That’s actual fact,” he says.
Arenas, 30, had previously declined to go into great detail. This is what he says happened:
Then-wizards center Javale Mcgee had beaten Crittenton out of $1,100 in a card game. Wizards guard Earl Boykins had loaned Mcgee $200. Mcgee didn’t immediately pay back Boykins as he won the money, and an argument blossomed. Arenas says he wasn’t involved in the actual bet.
“‘Pay the man his (expletive) money. You’ve got all my money,’ ” Arenas says Crittenton shouted at Mcgee. “So I jumped in, ‘Why you talking to your teammates like this? We family.’
“That’s when (Crittenton) started coming at me, ‘(Expletive, racial slur), just because you got
all money, this and this and this.’ That’s when we started going back and forth. I didn’t owe him anything. It was over a $1,100 pot he just lost.”
Arenas pauses and sighs when asked how the situation escalated to the point of guns.
“Someone said they were going to shoot me. So since I’m one of those guys who says, ‘I want to see this happen. I want to see you actually shoot me,’ that’s where that came from,” Arenas says, declining to mention that someone by name. “I brought the four guns in and said (in a note), ‘Pick 1, so the day you want to shoot me let me know, I’ll be ready to get shot.’ That’s how.”
According to a D.C. Superior Court document from Jan. 15, 2010: Several witnesses agree that during an argument on a Dec. 20, 2009, flight from Phoenix to Washington, Arenas threatened to shoot Crittenton in the face and set his Escalade on fire and that Crittenton threatened to shoot Arenas in the knee.
The document further details that witnesses saw Arenas lay out his firearms in front of Crittenton’s locker and that Crittenton brought out his own.
The Wizards, responding to requests from USA TODAY Sports, offered no comment.
Last August, Crittenton was arrested and charged with shooting from an SUV and killing a 23-year-old mother of four in Atlanta. She was walking with two men, according to police, including one who allegedly had robbed Crittenton of $55,000 in jewelry. Crittenton has yet to go to trial.
Arenas, who says he spoke with Crittenton about one year ago, wouldn’t discuss exactly what Crittenton did in the locker room because of his former teammate’s pending trial.
Crittenton’s criminal attorney, Brian Steel, did not respond to calls and e-mails from USA TODAY Sports. Bygone days remembered
The beginning of the end for Arenas in Washington might have come when the late Abe Pollin’s family sold the Wizards to Ted Leonsis in April 2010. A once-promising playoff team was torn apart. Caron Butler, Deshawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood were traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Antawn Jamison was sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Arenas lingered for 21 games of the 2010-11 season until he was dealt to the Orlando Magic. Mcgee was sent to the Denver Nuggets at this season’s trading deadline. Only Andray Blatche remains.
“The reason I’m not angry, it’s business. I got that now,” Arenas said. “My owner was Abe Pollin.
“I remember we were at his memorial, and Brendan looked at me and said, ‘You’re not protected anymore.’ We laughed about it — and then a month later (the locker room incident happened).”
Neither Mcgee, Blatche nor former teammate Nick Young was available to comment Wednesday.
There were other incidents with Arenas, too. According to him, Blatche once threw his clothes in a Jacuzzi, accusing Arenas of cutting up his suit. Arenas denied the suit cutting, saying he wasn’t in the building and insisting another Wizards teammate did it. But Arenas was OK with playing that game. He got payback with Blatche’s shoes.
“It was just dog doo-doo in it. It was really dog doo-doo. . . . I took his sole out, threw it under there, put the sole back on and threw the baby powder on there so he couldn’t smell it,” Arenas said.
But today, “We’re all friends,” Arenas said of his former teammates. “We’re still cool. We still talk to each other. Everyone is happy they’re in better places.
“What’s funny is when Javale and Nick (Young) got traded this year, they called me and said, ‘We out on good behavior. Dray went up for his parole hearing and got denied,’ ” Arenas’ way of saying Blatche still remains with the Wizards. “We make a joke about it.”
Grizzlies seem to be the fit
Arenas was released by the Magic before this season via the one-time amnesty clause. They have to pay him the $60 million-plus they owe, but it won’t count against the salary cap.
Arenas fits well with Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, who has a no-nonsense, defensive approach. But Arenas had to be sure he was wanted by Hollins, the Grizzlies players, general manager Chris Wallace and owner Michael Heisley.
“He understands who are the guys who can shoot and don’t shoot, things that young players don’t pay any attention to,” Hollins said in praising Arenas’ decision-making. “And he’s brought three-point shooting.”
Wallace says he was initially against signing Arenas.
“He hadn’t played that well in Orlando; he’d been hurt. He had the Washington thing,” the general manager recalled. “Then you restart thinking the issue a bit. Gilbert was interested, and I had a couple of conversations with him.
“I could tell that he was a basketball junkie, that he also had a deep desire to continue to play in the NBA. . . . It wasn’t about money.”
Hollins had an exchange with forward Quincy Pondexter that sold Arenas on his ability to rebuild his career here.
“He was cussing out Q, and then after the game he smiled to him and said, ‘Hey, the only reason I’m cussing you out is because I believe in you. You need to believe in you.’ Right there, I was like, ‘So he doesn’t take it personal?’ ” Arenas said of Hollins. “Q doesn’t go home and dwell on it so Q doesn’t come back the next day thinking Coach doesn’t like him now.
“You can’t play the game the right way (when that happens). But with Coach (Hollins), it went right out the window. That’s what you’ve got to like, a coach who’s played the NBA game before, understands the NBA player. That’s why I can actually be myself, come out there, shoot shots and not have to worry about getting yanked every time I make a mistake.”
After Wednesday’s 104-93 victory against the Phoenix Suns, Arenas has played 10 games with the Grizzlies (3423), averaging 5.4 points in 14.7 minutes behind starting point guard Mike Conley.
“Everybody feels comfortable when he has the ball in his hands. That’s what we need,” Conley said of Arenas.
“I only knew what the media has told me and all the incidents he’s been through. Now that I met him and know him, I don’t see how any of that could’ve happened. It’s weird. He’s been a great teammate.” Previewing for next season
There haven’t been any pranks. No altering the name on a jersey as Arenas did with Blatche’s to make it read “Bitch.” No putting dog excrement in teammates’ shoes in Memphis.
Being in Memphis reminds Arenas of a happier time in 2001, when he was a rookie second-round draft pick for the Golden State Warriors. There was no Agent Zero, no Twitter and other social media.
After scoring 12 and 14 points, respectively, in victories against the Miami Heat and Mavericks, Arenas was held to two points in a win vs. the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday and zero in a victory against the Suns on Wednesday.
It’s unlikely he’ll score 40 points or more 11 times in a season as he did in 2005-06. He’s not the $111 million player he became in Washington in more ways than one.
“My image, I don’t want to rebuild it. What was it before? If you really think about it, it was an erratic, eccentric player. The image I built was the image I was selling. I was selling the Agent Zero product,” Arenas said.
“What you see on the court is not who the person is. That’s what they’re showing you. All that Twitter, that’s product placement. ‘We had a good day. Great team win.’ . . . ‘Oh, bad loss, get ’em next week.’ No one is really trying to be themselves because being themselves gets them in trouble.
“If you go out there and say, ‘(Expletive) coach didn’t play me today,’ that’s really me, but I’m going to get killed for that. So nobody is really themselves on Twitter.”
And Arenas is certain he’ll play in the NBA next season. This run with Memphis is a chance to show that he still can play. He also has a left knee that required reconstructive surgery three years ago, which slowed him. That was part of his problem in Orlando.
Rebuilding himself also meant getting over the death of his estranged mother, Mary Francis Robinson, who abandoned Arenas when he was 3. She died before his sentencing for the gun charge. He had met her once but paid her funeral expenses.
“All of this just happened at one time. It was too much,” Arenas said.
“As many jokes I was telling to show I have it together and this hasn’t fazed me. . . . I just wanted to be out. I said (to Stern), ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going to fight you (on the suspension).’
“He has to protect the image of the NBA,” Arenas said of Stern. “You can’t tear down the whole image for one person. He had to suspend me.”
There’s joy in him to be in Memphis, a place known for the blues, and to be with the Grizzlies, a blue-collar team not constructed around one player. He’s just glad to be back in the NBA, contributing.
“Forget everything else, it’s the NBA,” Arenas said. “You have the best job in the world.”