Once a star, Arenas now focuses on the fun
MIAMI — Gilbert Arenas is averaging a microscopic 4.3 points, but he seems happier than most guys who are putting up 20 a night.
At Friday morning’s shootaround at AmericanAirlines Arena, the guard was all smiles as his Memphis Grizzlies prepared to face the Miami Heat. And why not? What he calls the worst period of his life is over.
“I call them the dark years,’’ Arenas says of the period between December 2009 and December 2011. “What’s funny is I don’t remember them. When people ask me about those years, I just don’t remember. I guess I just subconsciously blanked them all out. … I’m just trying to have fun now.’’
That gloomy period started when it came to light Arenas had drawn guns in the locker room with guard Javaris Crittenton when the two were with the Washington Wizards. Arenas ended up being suspended for the remainder of the season.
“From there, I just tried to forget about life,’’ said Arenas, 30, a three-time All-Star who is now just a role player.
He says the dark years ended last December when, as part of the NBA’s amnesty rule, he was let go by Orlando. While the Magic remained on the hook for the final three years and $62 million of his contract, it would seem strange to think the day he was waived out of the league would be such a happy one.
But let Arenas explain.
“When I got amnestied, I thought that was the best thing that happened to me because I didn’t have the pressure anymore,’’ said Arenas, who averaged 8.0 points in 49 games for the Magic last season after he had begun the year with Washington before being traded. “I didn’t have the media scrutiny anymore. I was just free. I was just a normal person again.’’
Well, he didn’t exactly live the life of a typical working stiff. Arenas embarked upon what he called an “extended vacation.’’
He went fishing. He spent his days in Orlando racing go-karts, reaching speeds between 80 and 90 mph.
“I called that my job. I’d wake up and take the kids to school and then go (to the track) from like 10 o’clock to 5,’’ said Arenas, who has four children with girlfriend Laura Govan, the two oldest being 5 and 6. “It was fun. When I was playing, I focused so much on basketball that I never really had (the time) to enjoy myself. So, I basically was just enjoying myself for the first time.’’
Maybe it wasn’t driving go-karts, something Arenas said he can’t do under an NBA contract, but he certainly did have his fun before all this, too. Wearing No. 0 and having given himself the nickname “Agent Zero,’’ he spoke and blogged about plenty of wild things while with the Wizards.
But the fun came to an end once Arenas and Crittenton drew guns on each other in the locker room during an argument about gambling debts.
“We had a locker room incident that happens in locker rooms,’’ said Arenas, who now wears No. 10, while giving few specifics. “Nobody usually finds out about locker rooms. So it got put out, and the way it got put out. I mean, it was more business than it was what I did or what people think I did. It was more business. It was a business deal. … You’re in the middle of a negotiation. You got to find all the leverage you can.’’
While Arenas returned to Wizards the following season, Crittenton has not played a single minute in the NBA since the incident, which resulted in him also being suspended for the remainder of 2009-10.
Crittenton last summer was charged with murdering a 22-year-old mother of four in his hometown of Atlanta. Police allege Crittenton had instead been targeting another individual who had robbed him earlier in the year. Crittenton, who has denied any involvement, is currently out on bond awaiting trial.
“Hey, when it was supposed to have been both of us going through the same thing, I didn’t hear his name,’’ Arenas said of Crittenton. “It was Gilbert and a teammate. Now, everyone finds out who was the real problem. Hopefully, he gets through it, and God bless him. But that’s none of my concern.
“Like people say, the light eventually turns on the good one. At first, I was supposed to have been the bad seed, but I’m back doing something I love and that’s all I can think about. I can’t think about what he’s going through. He has his own problems and, hopefully, I just wish him the best.’’
Arenas, whose slippage as a player has plenty to do with a rash of knee problems, is a far cry from the player who averaged as many as 29.3 points for the Wizards in 2005-06. But you wouldn’t know that looking at the way he laughs and jokes with his teammates.
“He’s back to having fun,’’ said Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay. “There were a couple of years where he was down. I don’t think you need to know him to know that he was down. What he was going through was serious. But that’s behind him and now he can just play basketball.
“He was a great player, we all know that, but he’s getting older and the injuries aren’t helping. But he’s willing to go out there to get it as close to back to normal as he can.’’
In six games for the Grizzlies, Arenas has averaged 15.5 minutes and scored a grand total of 26 points. Arenas, who once scored 60 points in a game for Washington, used to be able to score that many in a half.
Arenas said he’s still rounding into shape. Between having a workout with the Lakers on Feb. 12 and signing with the Grizzlies on March 20, Arenas didn’t play ball.
“Before the Laker workout, I was working out two times a day,’’ Arenas. “After the Laker workout, I just stopped and said I was going to shut my body down because I’d been going hard and I just focused on rehabbing the knee and getting all the motion back into it. And other than that, I was driving race cars and having fun for the first time in my life.’’
With the Grizzlies also having offensive-minded guard O.J. Mayo as a reserve, Arenas said his job isn’t to score. He said his role is to “facilitate’.’
“It’s hard because I’m not in that situation anymore,’’ Arenas said about whether he ever might return to his high-scoring days. “I’m not called on to a 29-point scorer, a 30-point scorer anymore unless the whole team gets hurt.’’
If his health holds up, Arenas said he’s hoping to play a “couple more years.’’ But he’s not going to stop enjoying himself.
“I just try to have fun now,’’ Arenas said. “One of the equipment guys (with the Grizzlies), he goes on vacations every summer. I’ve never been on a vacation. So I already booked me vacations. I’m taking a month vacation (this summer) and going to enjoy other countries. I’m going to ABC: Argentina, Brazil and Chile.”
The dark days are indeed over.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson