MIAMI, May 7 -- Shortly after helping lead the Washington Wizards into the second round of the playoffs, point guard Gilbert Arenas wasn't going to give the Miami Heat any more bulletin-board material as the teams prepare to meet in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday at American Airlines Arena.
Hadn't he learned his lesson already? In the preseason, Arenas said that he didn't think the Heat would be that good because guard Dwyane Wade was no Kobe Bryant and couldn't shoot, and that Shaquille O'Neal would get hurt and miss a good portion of the regular season.
"He grew tremendously," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said of Gilbert Arenas, above. "Gil, just being the talent that he is. He's found a way for us to win, without scoring every night."
(Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
Of course, Wade blossomed into a superstar and potential supermodel, making it to People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" list, and O'Neal put up sub-Diesel numbers but still managed to lead the Heat to the best record in the East -- and the Heat swept the Wizards in four regular season games. Now, with the Wizards being an overwhelming underdog in this best-of-seven series, Arenas couldn't help but eat his words and laugh. "This," Arenas said, "is kind of funny."
Arenas was asked Saturday if he thought Wade was a better shooter, and he refused to answer. He was reminded that O'Neal would be playing despite thigh bruises, but he refused to believe that O'Neal was really hurt. "That's the rumor," he said, curling his lips in doubt. He looked as if he had seen a ghost when he heard that O'Neal didn't win the league's most valuable player award. "Uh-oh," Arenas said.
Reminded of O'Neal's response to Arenas's comments earlier in the season -- "Proven nobodies should not be allowed to make statements about proven somebodies," O'Neal said at the time -- Arenas said he read them, but again he didn't bite. "You know, there is no animosity," Arenas said. "When we got to the [All-Star Game in Denver] everybody was cool. Everybody was having fun."
Indeed, Arenas, Wade and O'Neal resembled "the Three Amigos" in Denver last February as they constantly laughed and joked with one another. Wade and Arenas had already quashed any possible beef before the team's first regular season meeting, with Arenas calling his friend to tell him that his words were taken out of context. Arenas said he felt he had to call Wade, because they had just spent part of the summer "clubbing" together in Miami. "I know he was wondering, like, 'I was having fun with him.' I had to clear it up," Arenas said.
O'Neal quickly took to Arenas during the all-star break, and even made a playful wager with the young star: If Arenas took off his warmup shirt and whirled it over his head during all-star introductions, O'Neal would give him $10,000. Arenas kept his end of the bargain, shimmying and twirling his shirt, but "Shaq said he had his fingers crossed," forward Antawn Jamison said, giggling. Arenas never got paid. "Oh, I'm going to get my money back somehow," Arenas said Saturday. "I'll get a shoe or jersey or something. That's got to be worth at least $10,000."
If not, Arenas already feels that O'Neal has helped him financially. Arenas said he bought a condominium in Miami last summer shortly after O'Neal was dealt to the Heat from Los Angeles. "Hey, Shaq went down there. Property value went up," the budding real estate magnate said. "You buy a condo for $1.5 million, it'll be worth $2.5 mil in no time. Thank you, Shaq!"
Arenas, who spent the early part of his youth in Tampa, said he thought about signing with the Heat as a free agent before landing in Washington. But Arenas said Heat President Pat Riley had already drafted Wade and was prepared to sign Lamar Odom from the Los Angeles Clippers. "Pat Riley said he doesn't believe in paying young players money, so there is nothing I can do about that. They made it clear that I wasn't proven," Arenas said. "Back then, I would've done the same thing as a GM."
Arenas said he hopes this matchup between himself and Wade -- two 23-year-old players who were born 11 days apart and emerged as first-time all-stars this season -- can blossom into a friendly rivalry for years to come. "We'll be here for a while," he said. "It's great that some of the big all-stars -- the highlight-reel perimeter players [such as Bryant and LeBron James] -- are out of the postseason, so some of the younger players can make their way into stardom. You know that's the good thing."
Arenas has embraced his time in the spotlight, gradually getting better with each playoff game. His buzzer-beating, game-winning shot in Game 5 against the Chicago Bulls will be etched in the memory of Washington basketball fans for some time -- it's even the screen saver on the computer he claims to never use. "He grew tremendously," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "Gil, just being the talent that he is. He's found a way for us to win, without scoring every night. We grew and he grew."
While Arenas's game grew, his shorts shrunk. Before Game 4, the league office informed Arenas his shorts were too long. Through the first 85 games of the season -- regular season and playoffs -- Arenas wore shorts intended for someone with a 46-inch waist. He would roll them up and hold them up with tape and string as they hung well below his calves. Arenas wore the proper-size shorts in the past three games, but he wasn't complaining because the Wizards were unbeaten when he dared to wear short-shorts. He did, however, get ribbed for it. Arenas said Los Angeles Lakers forward and former Arizona teammate Luke Walton called him to give him a hard time. "Luke was clowning me," Arenas said, laughing. "He said, 'Are they getting shorter? My dad [Hall of Fame center Bill Walton] used to wear those.' I don't care. There are some nice babes in Miami, maybe they'll like my backside."