With his unique personality and alter ego, Gilbert Arenas isn't your average superstar

Zero's hour

Nba All-star Game

February 18, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

The uniform number says a lot about Gilbert Arenas.

Zero.

That was how many minutes some recruiters told him he'd play for a major program. And he never wanted to forget, so he slapped it on his chest as a freshman at Arizona.

But these days, the number is a big part of his "superhero" identity. He's Agent Zero, the phenomenon who bursts past the fastest guards, floats shots over the fingertips of the tallest centers and swishes three-pointers from the remotest environs of a basketball court.

Despite his widely accepted superstar status, Arenas said his uniform number means the same to him as it ever did.

"It's the same as it was in college when nobody expected anything of me and I led my team in scoring and we went to the championship game," the Washington Wizards star guard said. "That zero is what I'm a part of. Every little kid knows zero. You see it in playground games all over."

When pressed for more explanation of its significance, Arenas said, "It's somebody who fights. Somebody who fights for everything they have and hasn't been given anything easy. It's knowing that I deserve everything I accomplish, because I had to work for it. Like the All-Star Game. The fans aren't voting me in, so I have to fight for it. That's who I am."

The fans actually did vote for Arenas to start tonight's game in Las Vegas and, by almost any standard, his fight for respect has progressed phenomenally well.

He's averaging close to 30 points a game for a second straight season and is a serious Most Valuable Player candidate. He scores those points with elan, routinely drilling buzzer-beating 25-footers. He's in the fourth year of a six-year, $65 million contract. And he's the first basketball hero to develop in Washington since the days of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes in the 1970s.

"What a unique player and what a phenomenally special person," said ESPN analyst Bill Walton, whose son, Luke, played with Arenas at Arizona. "In a world gone bland before our eyes, he has a remarkable ability to capture an audience and deliver on his promise."

Wary of fame

Success has not transformed Arenas into a generic NBA superstar.

He is enormously confident in his ability, the sort of guy who expected greatness of himself long before anyone else saw it.

"Nothing really fazes him at all, no matter what the situation is or who might be doubting him," said Antawn Jamison, who has played five seasons with Arenas for the Golden State Warriors and the Wizards. "He's never lacked that confidence."

But Arenas also offers flashes of perspective that seem foreign coming from an athletic demigod.

Being in the NBA is like being a leaf on a tree, he once told fans in an online chat. Every season leaves blow off the tree and new ones grow on.

He made headlines with his 25th birthday, held at a swank nightclub in Washington, and emceed by hip-hop eminences P Diddy and Lil Wayne among others. The lavish affair was said to cost $1.5 million.

But those who know Arenas say he'll seem just as happy about chatting up a stranger while biking in Rock Creek Park.

"I told him once, `You're Elgin Baylor,' " said Arenas' high school coach, Howard Levine. "And he looked at me like I was crazy. I said, `To me, Baylor and Jerry West were like gods. They're why I do what I do. You're that for a lot of people now.' And he just said, `You're nuts.'

"Sometimes, he doesn't realize he's Gilbert yet, and that's a kind of great quality to have."

Arenas remains wary of the sort of fame that would make him a shut-in or force him to micromanage his image.

"It seems like guys who are built up to be too good just end up falling hard," he said. "I'm just trying to show that I can be regular. That's all I want to be."

Star power, appeal

"Regular" isn't how teammates or coaches describe Arenas.

He lives life as if plugged into a power cord that no one else can access. After a recent win over Seattle in which he played 44 minutes, Arenas emerged from the shower area to find a pack of reporters around little-used forward Andray Blatche.

"Look who's a star now," Arenas chirped with a high-pitched lilt. Arenas, clad only in a towel, proceeded to gyrate at the edge of Blatche's interview ring.

He then taunted DeShawn Stevenson about a contest he'd won by making 73 of 100 from three-point range ... shooting one-handed. Stevenson managed 68 shooting with two hands. (Check it out on YouTube.)

"There's a `swagfest' going on," said a Wizards spokesman, playing off of Arenas' own term for his confidence - "phenomenal swag."

When asked if he worried about Stevenson taking his money, Arenas scrunched his face in a mock sneer.

"I don't even worry about that," he said, "because I don't lose."

Arenas didn't stop talking for more than 15 seconds between then and his departure for a Ruth's Chris steak dinner 30 minutes later.

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