By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
DENVER, Dec. 18 -- When Gilbert Arenas emerged from the Wizards' locker room Sunday night, he was greeted his father, Gilbert Sr., and about 75 family members and friends who grew up around him in the Los Angeles area.
One of those friends was Fahim Hassankhail, a former teammate at Birmingham High School, where Arenas played before transferring to Grant High in Van Nuys.
Arenas ripped off the gold-and-black jersey he wore while scoring a franchise-record 60 points in the Wizards' 147-141 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and handed it to Hassankhail.
"The Hall of Fame called today asking for the jersey, but he can keep it," Arenas said. "I gave it to him so it's his." It's hard to imagine now, but Arenas once played a backup role to Hassankhail in high school.
No one stood ahead of Arenas on Sunday night, not even Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who was coming off a 53-point performance in a win over Houston on Friday night and is responsible for the king of all scoring binges in recent NBA history: an 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors last season.
After Arenas scored 29 points through three quarters and helped the Wizards build a 17-point lead in the fourth, Bryant dropped into a defensive stance, licked his lips, clapped his hands together and tried to stop Arenas himself.
Arenas scored 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the fourth quarter, including a play in which Arenas curled around a screen and made a difficult jumper over Bryant while drawing a foul on the incredulous Lakers star -- whose 45-point, 10-assist, 8-rebound performance was overshadowed.
After Arenas missed a potential game-winning jumper over Bryant at the end of regulation, he set an NBA record by scoring 16 points in overtime. The frustration of watching Arenas have his way with the Lakers poured out of Bryant during the game as he repeatedly pleaded with the referees.
Afterward, his assessment of Arenas's performance was less than magnanimous. "You tip your hat and say: 'See you next time,' " Bryant said. "First of all, he shot 27 free throws. We as a team shot 30. Think about that. But him individually, it's funny. He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience. I really don't think he does. Some of the shots he took tonight, you miss those shots and they're just terrible shots.
"You make them and they're unbelievable shots. I don't get a chance to play him much, so I haven't gotten used to that mentality of just chucking it up there. He made some big ones, but I'll be ready next time."
Arenas idolized Bryant as a high school player. He has a DVD of Bryant's 81-point game and nearly wore it out in the days following the performance last season, and his comments about Bryant always laced with a respect bordering on reverence.
When a few Wizards sat around the locker room holding an informal discussion earlier this season, Arenas ranked Bryant as the best player in the league.
The two had no communication during Sunday's game.
"I'm not a trash talker and he really doesn't talk trash," Arenas said. "He just goes out there and plays. A guy who comes off an injury and to do what he does, it's unbelievable."
The irony of Bryant complaining about the way the game was officiated was not lost on the Wizards. On one key fourth-quarter possession, for instance, Bryant drove around Antawn Jamison for a score. Although it appeared that Jamison hadn't touched Bryant, a foul was called and the Lakers drew within two points with 24 seconds remaining when Bryant completed the three-point play.
Arenas understood that to get a favorable call against Bryant in Bryant's building, the foul would have to be obvious. So he drove the lane with the determination of a running back hitting a hole in football.
"I knew he was going to take the challenge of stopping me," Arenas said. "That's what kind of player he is no matter whether he has four fouls or five fouls. He knew they weren't going to foul him out of the game and I knew they weren't going to foul him out of the game so I kept attacking."
Arenas kept attacking until he had shoved franchise greats like Earl Monroe (56 points), Phil Chenier (53 points), Bernard King (52 points) and Michael Jordan (51 points) down a notch in Washington's record book.
"Truthfully, it was bound to happen," said Arenas, whose previous single-game high was 47 points in a loss to Miami last season. "I'm a scorer and I knew I was going to have one of those days where I was clicking. There's been times when I have scored 46 through three [quarters], but we're blowing a team out and I don't get to play. Today was that time where it was a close game and I stayed in.
"It's a Christmas present to myself."