Arenas Zeroes In on NBA Stardom

Diddy was among the celebrity guests at the 25th birthday party for Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, left, on Jan. 5. The bash reportedly cost between $1 million and $2 million, but it helped further Arenas's rise in popularity.
Diddy was among the celebrity guests at the 25th birthday party for Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, left, on Jan. 5. The bash reportedly cost between $1 million and $2 million, but it helped further Arenas's rise in popularity. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 18, 2007

LAS VEGAS -- The idea came to Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas while he was driving his Escalade one afternoon in Washington. Jay-Z's words and music blared, "The takeover, the break's over . . ."

It was shortly after the U.S. men's national team had sent him home from South Korea, where it was preparing for the world championships, and Arenas was furious that he was cut after he had altered his game to fit the team's needs.

Despite being a two-time all-star, Arenas still felt like only a pseudo-star. He wondered what he had to do to be included among the elite of the National Basketball Association and become a household name like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. After listening to Jay-Z's "The Takeover," Arenas decided that he wasn't going to sit back and wait for it to happen, and he wasn't going to blame anyone else if it didn't.

"I'm going to will myself," he remembered saying. "I'm going to will my personality on you -- like it or not."

Six months later, the success of "The Takeover" can be spotted all over Las Vegas. Fans voted Arenas a starter in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game, and his oversize image is on two billboards covering the sides of hotels on the Strip. He shares a massive, 300-foot-wide by 180-foot-high Adidas advertisement with fellow all-star Tracy McGrady on the MGM Grand. His other sponsor, Glaceau Vitamin Water, has mobile billboards driving up and down the Strip.

"It's amazing to me," Arenas said after seeing his billboards in Las Vegas. "I dreamed of having 'The Takeover' this year, and so far, it went well."

Arenas didn't get here by accident. He has been among the top scorers in the league all season, and has led the Wizards to their most successful first half of a season in nearly three decades. But that doesn't completely explain the surge in Arenas's popularity, especially because he jettisoned his agent in September and, unlike most of the game's elite, lacks a major corporate-driven marketing engine behind him.

Arenas instead has been both the agent and beneficiary of a largely Internet-based publicity machine. His well-documented idiosyncrasies and personal charm have turned him into a darling of the growing pro basketball blogosphere.

As Arenas himself put it, "I'm a one-man marketing machine!"

His first tangible success came last month, when he received more than 665,917 votes in the last two weeks of balloting and was named an all-star starter for the first time.

All-star starters are chosen by fans who vote on the Internet and at NBA arenas, and incumbent all-stars usually are reelected. Arenas's chances increased when popular guard Allen Iverson was traded to the Denver Nuggets, who play in the Western Conference.

When the penultimate set of returns was released on Jan. 11, Arenas trailed seven-time all-star Vince Carter by 214,460 votes. Arenas pushed on with a full-fledged media onslaught that included interviews with countless magazines, newspapers, radio stations and television programs (including San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker's radio talk show, which is broadcast in France). He also urged the video game team he sponsors, Final Boss, to blog about him on its Web site. He asked friends to spread the word.


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