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Arenas Gets His Just Due

By George Solomon
Sunday, February 12, 2006

Even in the NBA, a slight is a slight. Last week, the Eastern Conference coaches overlooked Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas and his 28 points per game when they voted for the All-Star Game reserves.

"That's the NBA," Arenas said on Friday, a day before Commissioner David Stern rectified the coaches' mistake by adding Arenas to the team. The decision by Stern occurred several hours before the Wizards met the Cleveland Cavaliers (29-20) and their all-star superstar starter, LeBron James.

Such a matchup normally would fill MCI Center, but the buzz surrounding the Arenas controversy added to the excitement. Throw in Brian Lenair's stirring rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and a raucous crowd of 20,173, and you had the makings of a big night in the NBA.

"I felt a lot of emotion and excitement tonight," Arenas said after scoring 32 points to lead the Wizards (25-23) to a 101-89 victory, their fourth straight win and their fifth in six games.

How did Arenas find out that he'd been chosen by Stern to a second consecutive all-star team?

"Text message in my car," he replied with a twinkle in his eye.

In a moment of reflection, Arenas admitted: "I was hurt not to be included. I play with passion and I put a lot into the game. But there's a blessing to everything.

"Scottie Pippen once told me to enjoy the experience of being an all-star because you never know about the future. They don't promise you anything in this league."

Arenas, who had been bypassed because of the inclusion of four Detroit Pistons (41-8) to the East squad, even outplayed James (18 points) Friday night. That doesn't happen often.

Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, asked why his coaching colleagues passed on voting Arenas onto the squad, said: "Maybe it was the Detroit phenomenon. Or maybe they think Gilbert takes a lot of shots. But he's matured in every phase of his life."

Most significant were the two standing ovations Arenas got from the home crowd -- one when he was introduced before the game and a second when he left the game with 1 minute 23 seconds left and the Wizards comfortably ahead.

An all-star performance.

MLB, You're Welcome

The Nationals have been on a roller coaster ever since Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig announced in September of 2004 they were relocating from Montreal to Washington. But rarely have the Nats and their fans experienced anything to match this week's wild ride.

Consider:

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council voted, 8-5, to reject a baseball stadium lease agreement, seemingly putting a dagger in the heart of the team's future in Washington. Four hours later, by a 9-4 margin, they approved a lease deal that included a cap of $611 million for the project.

Such a reversal of fortune would be comparable to Johnny Sack, New York mob kingpin on "The Sopranos," going to sleep with his wife but waking up in the morning next to Scarlett Johansson.

The morning after, Selig told The Post's Thomas Boswell: "I've been involved in 18 stadium negotiations and all of them are difficult and controversial. But this thing that happened in Washington tops them. It's already legendary in baseball for political intrigue." Selig added: "Nobody wants to be in Washington more than I do. It's good for my sport."

However, I would remind my friend, The Commissioner, that when he begins to read the amended agreement approved by the council, he should remember that regardless of the changes to the lease, he and his MLB colleagues still will sell the once-bankrupt former Expos for $450 million, on top of the millions reaped from last year's 2.7 million fans. He should also consider the $611 million pledged by the city for the stadium is more than most cities have ponied up, including my home town of Miami, which won't give its two-time world champion Florida Marlins the time of day.

And, please, ease up slightly on how "Washington has been a godsend for baseball and nobody wants to be in Washington more than I do."

Fans here begged and pleaded for a team for 33 years -- one that the nation's capital, with an area population of 5.5 million, and a founding member of the American League -- deserved. And fans thank you for that team, even knowing how Orioles owner Peter Angelos got the best TV deal ever, and how much work and money the Nats owner will face to make the team a contender.

So, Mr. Commissioner, look with kindness on the amended lease the mayor just FedExed to you, knowing the aggravation we've been through, such as the team winning an arbitration case Friday with Alfonso Soriano and still having to pay him $10 million to play second base standing right next to Jose Vidro. (Only here could two guys play second base.) Not to mention our offering a home to Sammy Sosa, who if he can't play anymore, can at least keep Kornheiser company on the bus to Seattle.

Local Hoops Happenings

· Big doings at College Park, with the Terrapins hosting Duke yesterday, on a day Gary Williams was honored for 349 wins in 17 years as Maryland basketball coach. That's one more than Lefty Driesell, who was also celebrated for his 17 years. "I'm very excited and looking forward to this," Driesell said beforehand. Driesell's most memorable victory? "Winning that game over South Carolina [31-30 in 1971] that got us going, and the ACC tournament in 1984."

The Maryland women's team scored its most memorable victory in years, winning Thursday at No. 1 North Carolina, 98-95, in overtime to go to 22-2. Georgetown's men ran their record to 17-4 the same night with a 64-41 romp of St. John's to set up tonight's game against No. 9 West Virginia (17-5) at MCI Center. The guys at George Washington and George Mason continued their runs at the NCAA tournament in a season loaded with good local teams and exciting players.

· Washingtonian Red Auerbach, who earned Basketball Hall of Fame honors coaching and running the Boston Celtics for more than four decades, has been at Sibley Hospital the past month recuperating from ailments related to colon cancer surgery last summer.

· Finally. John Feinstein, the most prolific author of sports books ever and the target of my weekly barbs, lost his father last Sunday. Martin Feinstein, the Kennedy Center and Washington Opera impresario for years, died of pancreatic cancer. At a memorial service Tuesday, John Feinstein closed by saying nothing gave his father more pleasure than a standing ovation by the audience in appreciation of a great performance, to which mourners rose in tribute to Martin Feinstein's career. Bravo.

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