Got Game? Arenas Has His Own.
Friday, August 10, 2007
After a season in which Gilbert Arenas rose to national acclaim by providing an array of long-range buzzer-beaters, lighting up the Los Angeles Lakers for 60 points, becoming an all-star, making those hideous gold-and-black Wizards jerseys cool and making "Hibachi" a recognizable nickname, it should have surprised no one that he was selected to be the cover athlete for EA Sports' NBA Live 08.
After hearing that news, I immediately set out to challenge Arenas to a video-game duel. I knew I was up for the challenge -- I was confident in my ability to game against professional athletes after successfully defeating the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin in NHL 07 last year. Arenas, however, is no pushover. His gaming abilities are the stuff of legend. (Seriously. There's one story about him getting ticked because he missed -- by one shot -- beating a guy by 100 as predicted before the game.)
The Arenas-Betancourt rivalry would begin in New York, at an EA Sports-sponsored event celebrating Arenas being on the game's cover. But each media member was allowed just 10 minutes with him, not nearly enough time for me to school him on the intricacies of gaming, but enough to issue a challenge. I let him know that I'd beaten Ovechkin last year and was now gunning for him.
"Wow," Arenas said. "So that means you're actually good at games."
He liked the idea of a challenge and agreed to meet me in Washington for a match. We decided to settle the score in the players' lounge at Verizon Center. Arenas was running late because of a business meeting, which gave me time to practice with photographer Jay Premack, who agreed to be my sparring partner. After a 40-point victory against Jay, I was ready.
Finally, Arenas was ready to go, flanked by his 1-year-old daughter, Izela. He surprised me by selecting the Miami Heat and not his bread-and-butter team, the Lakers. I opted for the Boston Celtics, which received a laugh.
But the joke was on Arenas, who couldn't understand why the Celtics had such a high rating on the pregame screen. While he was in his business meeting, I updated the Celtics' roster to their real-life status by inserting the recently acquired Kevin Garnett into the lineup. Did he really think I was going to play with the lottery-bound Celtics squad from last year? "You've got KG on here with the Celtics?" Arenas asked.
"Hey, I figured you need as early a look as possible at what you'll be seeing on a regular basis this year," I said.
Amused by my Jerry West-like general manager skills, Arenas laughed, and the game was on. He opened with an early 5-0 lead, causing my hands to sweat as he started with a quick three-pointer and a follow-up basket after an initial miss on my part. The hibachi grill was warming up. In Never-Nervous Pervis fashion, I remained calm, reminding myself that I had the Big Ticket on my team, and that my game plan would flow through him.
I wish I could say my offensive strategy was complex, but it wasn't. I called the same "post-up" play about 99 percent of the time, which led to an array of KG pump fakes, baseline jumpers and dunks. It got to the point where Arenas was calling my offense for me. At one moment, another player was where KG was supposed to be, and I almost passed it to him only to be interrupted by Arenas.
"KG is on the other side," he said sarcastically.
I led at halftime, 48-34. Arenas, with a half still to play, was a little concerned about the officiating as I was getting a lot of three-point plays.