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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Gilbert Arenas is the NBA's "Ocho Cinco"

It is one thing for fans to like a player based on some combination of his skill, charisma and production but I just don't get the media's love affairs with Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson and Gilbert "Agent Zero" Arenas, two players who are such legends in their own minds that they nicknamed themselves (which is not quite the same as earning a nickname like "Dr. J," "the Pearl" or "the Glide"). I guess their popularity shows the value and power of being accessible to and friendly with members of the press. Arenas is everywhere now--he blogs at NBA.com (or, more accurately, he dictates some things to an actual writer who organizes these thoughts in a blog format) and he contributed to not one but two national magazines' NBA previews.

I talk here about how Johnson's act is wearing thin with the 2-5 Cincinnati Bengals, so let's look at Arenas' resume. He displayed such a bad attitude during Team USA practices in 2006 that it is unlikely that he will ever be invited back. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant--the man everyone seemingly loves to hate, the "bad" teammate, the "selfish" scorer--revitalized Team USA (along with Jason Kidd) in 2007 with his work ethic, unselfishness and defensive intensity. Arenas responded to being let go by Team USA not by trying to figure out how to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff but by lamenting that he has no college eligibility left to torch Mike Krzyzewski's Duke squad with 50 or 60 points and vowing to drop 50 on both Phoenix and Portland (whose coaches are Team USA assistants). While Arenas did score 54 points in an overtime victory against Phoenix, he delivered just nine points in a 94-73 loss to Portland--and that was not for lack of trying, as he shot 3-15 from the field and had just two assists. Undaunted by either his failure or by how his misguided goal negatively affected his team's performance, Arenas told me during All-Star Weekend that he was just "playing possum. I just tried to win the game. I want to hit 50 in their building; I didn’t want to hit 50 in my building...At the end of the day, I still have one more game against them. So if I score 50, hey, everything that I said was true." Arenas came up a mere 31 points shy of 50 in the rematch with Portland, shooting 4-16 from the field in a 100-98 loss. Prior to that game, he dictated this to his blog's ghostwriter: "I know coach is going to get mad for me saying this, but if I don’t score 50, damn it, there’s going to be a lot of shots to get to 50. You know, last time I shot 15 shots. At the end of the day, I want to win. It’s harder in this situation now because it’s winning time. Early in the season I can do that, I can go out there and just play reckless. But it’s more of a team thing now that we get these wins and we don’t droff – we don’t drop off. If I’m on fire, I’m on fire. If I’m not, just like last time, I’m not going to force anything" (yes, I left the typos uncorrected). Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan was less than thrilled by Arenas' shenanigans but the unsinkable Agent Zero, asked if he regretted his actions, replied, "No. I was a marked man in Phoenix and they couldn't do anything about it. Sometimes you shoot the bull's-eye and sometimes you don't."

Remember, this is the guy who many "experts" were trying to push as the MVP of the NBA last year.

Fast forward to this season. Arenas' newest brainstorm, conveyed via his ghostwritten blog on September 28, involved getting revenge on Jim O'Brien and the Boston Celtics: "Now, if anybody remembers back when I got drafted, I got a report back that the reason I dropped so far in the draft was that Jim O'Brien of the Celtics said that I was too immature and that I wasn't ready for the NBA. What really happened was that I had an Achilles injury and I went back to L.A. to go get it healed when I was supposed to have a two-day workout in Boston with O'Brien. He didn't like that. So word came back to me that he was trashing me and it put this knife through my chest about the Boston Celtics. Back in the day when I would day dream I thought that if I could score 100 points against any team it would be the Boston Celtics. Now, I knew it would never happen, but if I could do one thing in the NBA it would be to score 100 against Boston. So anyway, since everybody is back on the Boston bandwagon it brought back old memories. So listen here. On November 2nd, we're going to go into that building, we're opening up Boston. Right now I'm telling the Boston fans: You guys are going to lose. It's not going to be a victory for Boston. You might as well just cheer for me, because Boston isn't winning in Boston for the season opener. I'm sorry. "

Conveniently, Arenas' Wizards opened the season against O'Brien's Pacers before helping the Celtics kick off the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen era in Boston on Friday night. Arenas scored 34 points on 10-25 shooting as Indiana beat Washington 119-110 in overtime on Wednesday. Arenas had a -10 plus/minus rating in that contest. After not accomplishing that mission, Agent Zero came up with an even worse performance against the Celtics, finishing with 21 points, five rebounds and just three assists, while shooting 5-20 from the field, including 0-5 from three point range--thus making a sizable contribution to Washington's record-setting 0-16 three point shooting; no other NBA team has ever attempted that many treys without hitting at least one. Boston routed Washington 103-83.

Arenas' guarantees are no more fun loving or harmless than Johnson's antics in Cincinnati; each player is distracting himself and his team. It is simply amazing how much nonsense we hear about Kobe Bryant being a potential distraction to the Lakers or Owens and Moss being possible time bombs on their teams but Arenas and Johnson are looked upon as harmless court jesters. Talk about a double standard--and the media's reaction to these players bothers me far more than anything that the players have done. What's more, while both Arenas and Johnson are All-Star level performers, neither one is dominant enough within the context of his sport to consistently deliver on his bold words. In the vernacular, their mouths write checks that their bodies cannot cash. All-time greats like Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, Reggie Jackson and Michael Jordan talked trash and backed it up. Arenas and Johnson are not at that level and they should really consider ratcheting down their rhetoric a few notches and taking a look around their own sports at players who are better than they are. Terrell Owens, the wide receiver everyone loves to hate, says "Get your popcorn ready" but he does not hang a laminated sheet on his locker a la Chad Johnson asserting that no defensive back can cover him, nor does he wear a jacket trumpeting his eventual Hall of Fame induction. Randy Moss has acted a fool in a lot of ways in years past but this season he has been a model of decorum as he sets his sights on numerous receiving records. Does LeBron James call out teams and brag that he is going to drop 50 on them? Does Kobe Bryant do that? If anybody in the NBA has the skills to say such things and back it up it would be those two players.

James did trash talk Arenas once, but in a very subtle way and not for public consumption (though, ironically, Arenas himself later revealed what happened and James confirmed it); James walked up to Arenas prior to two last second free throws in game six of the 2006 playoffs and calmly told Arenas that if he missed then the Wizards would lose. Deep at the heart of all of Arenas' bragging there is most likely a lot of insecurity (unlike Jordan, who would invent grievances and then use them as motivation to annihilate his opponents) and James' cold blooded remark hit pay dirt. Arenas, normally an excellent free throw shooter, missed both shots and the Cavaliers won the game and the series. Arenas does not have to worry about that happening this year, because he and Ocho Cinco have one other thing in common: they will both be sitting at home come playoff time.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:12 AM

7 comments

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7 Comments:

At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:51:00 AM, Anonymous darvin said...

i mean

1. Gilbert did NOT nickname himself.

dam,n colecovision missing keys!!!

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 4:19:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Do you know for a fact that Gilbert has a ghostwriter for his blog? With all of the typos and grammatical errors, I was under the impression that he wrote it himself.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 9:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Darvin:

Looking into this further, I realize that it would have been more precise to say that Arenas chose the "Agent Zero" nickname from a menu of possibilities that fans presented to him; he did not invent the name himself out of whole cloth. I did not mean to take any credit away from you for proposing the name that he ultimately selected.

My larger point is that a nickname that one chooses for himself, whether or not one created it or borrowed it from someone else's suggestions, does not have the same cachet as a nickname like Dr. J or Mr. October that was earned by virtue of one's performances. Julius Erving did not call himself Dr. J or ask fans what he should call himself; he earned that nickname by "operating" on his opponents. Same thing with Mr. October, Magic and the Pearl, which came after a newspaper writer listed Earl Monroe's highest scoring games, calling them Earl's Pearls; Monroe earned even higher praise on the playgrounds, where he was known as Black Jesus.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 9:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

In an October 24 post, Henry Abbott wrote that Dave McMenamin is Arenas' ghostwriter; Abbott did not make clear who is responsible for the typos...

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

i think gilbert needs to be quiet now and just play basketball him commenting on kobe trade is bush league no more predictions now lets go ahead and play now. i dont think that this is a big distraction at all like kobe trade thing becasue it is a everyday thing where arenas was just a one day thing and this thing with kobe has gone on for months with that sad theres double standard in everything you have a double standard towards kobe i have a double standard towards my favirote guys like everybody does. historically if the media likes you they let you get away with more. johnson and arenas have not been as detrimental to there teams as owens has been or moss thats undisputable and i love moss terrrell owens has been a horrible teamate where johnson and arenas has not. they make predictions that have been wrong at times there not as good as they think they are i agree but overall not as bad as owens has been to his team or kobe or moss at times that is fact.

 
At Saturday, November 03, 2007 10:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

Arenas' antics are just as ongoing as the Bryant trade saga; in fact, they have been going on for a longer period of time.

I'm not applying a double standard to Bryant, Arenas or anyone else; the opposite is true: I am encouraging people to apply a fair standard to everyone. I would say that Arenas and Johnson deserve a little more criticism than they get because their conduct is a distraction to themselves and their teammates. At the same time, I don't think that they deserve all of the negative attention that Moss and Owens have received. The worst things that Moss did were leaving the field before the game was over, saying that he played when he wanted to and that since no one else was concerned about how his team was playing that he was not concerned either. Moss justly received criticism for those things. Unlike Owens, he needs a support structure of good leaders around him (Cris Carter in Minn, Tom Brady now). Owens was completely out of bounds for making personal remarks about Jeff Garcia. His celebrations are not better or worse for his team than Johnson's are, so it makes no sense for Kornheiser, Wilbon and others to say that. Owens may have been a bit too candid about publicly expressing his opinion of McNabb's skills but anyone who is honest can recall players making worse statements and not catching as much flak.

Corey Dillon is another guy who everyone called a cancer. Then he landed in New England and helped the Patriots to win a Super Bowl. Maybe he was trying to get away from the losers on the Bengals who were in fact the real cancers.

 
At Tuesday, November 06, 2007 10:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Clarification:

When I wrote "yes, I left the typos uncorrected" I was not being sarcastic; I just wanted to make it clear that I was quoting the text exactly as it appeared in Arenas' blog. Dave McMenamin, who is Arenas' ghostwriter, emailed me to say that the word "droff" is not a typo but rather a shorthand term that Arenas uses to mean "drop off."

 

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