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Wax On, Wax Off: Wizards Need a Healthy Arenas to Show Some Life

By George Solomon
Sunday, November 23, 2008

The last thing the Washington Wizards needed this week was a tribute to Gilbert Arenas, My Favorite NBA Player. But that's what occurred on Thursday at Madame Tussauds wax museum downtown, where a paraffin figure of Arenas was unveiled -- a ceremony repeated the next evening at Verizon Center during the Wizards' game against Houston.

At this point in the season, as bad as the Wizards (1-9) have played in this, their second year of "Waiting for Gilbert," such a tribute would be comparable to the unveiling of a statue of Henry Paulson this week in front of the Treasury building.

I'll break bread with Gilbert any time, any place. Quote him whenever I can. And I've bookmarked his blog. But a "Tribute to Gilbert" this week?

Since injuring his left knee on April 4, 2007, against the Charlotte Bobcats in the only game he did not start that season (he had been benched that day by Coach Eddie Jordan for showing up late to Verizon Center), Arenas has missed 82 of the Wizards' 97 games.

Of course, Arenas was not looking to get injured. Still, had he shown up on time for that fateful game against Charlotte a year and a half ago and started, instead of subbing, who knows what would have happened? But three knee surgeries later, a dubious rehabilitation routine and a lack of communication between Arenas and Jordan during last season's playoffs have frustrated many fans and a few Wizards coaches.

"This team is built for Gilbert to lead us, with two all-star forwards [Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler] and [injured] Brendan Haywood coming off a career year," Jordan said Tuesday night after the Wizards lost to Miami. It is their worst start since the 1966-67 season -- the result of no Arenas, Haywood and lately Antonio Daniels, as well as poor shooting, poor defense and poor rebounding.

Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld is quick to point out that Gilbert is only 26, with three all-NBA selections to his credit and a future -- if healthy -- as bright as anyone in the game. Grunfeld thinks long term and that's good. But the Wizards have a six-year, $111 million investment in Arenas and we wonder -- considering the condition of his left knee -- if that commitment is looking so smart right now.

Nor do we need Gilbert to suggest, as he did to reporters this week, that a terrible Wizards season could result in a high draft choice. ("That's what happened to San Antonio and that's how they got Tim Duncan. If that happens with us, it's for the better.")

Do we need to remind My Favorite NBA Player that we've been down that road before (Kwame Brown, Tom Hammonds, Kenny Green, LaBradford Smith, Greg Foster, to name a few) even before Gilbert became Gilbert?

So, madame, let's hold the tributes for now.

Just Hold Your Breath

My friend Miami Eric had not seen the 1974 movie "California Split" starring Elliott Gould and George Segal as two gambling degenerates trying for the big score. The highlight of the movie for me was Gould in a bathtub listening to Chick Hearn call a Los Angeles Lakers game in which Gould bet his last hundred dollars on L.A., giving 10 points to a lesser team playing in what Gould called "Jack Kent Cooke's Fabulous Forum."

Trailing by 11 with a second left, some guy from the opposing team let fly a 35-footer that swished through the nets as time expired -- the defeated, deflated, wet and broke Gould sliding his head under the bath water.

Such is the life of a gambler. Highs and lows. In the case of my friend Miami Eric, who last Sunday bet $200 on the Steelers against the Chargers, giving five points, he ended up suffering a fate equal to Gould's.

Because Miami Eric thought he was a winner. On the game's final play, with Pittsburgh ahead by 11-10, the Steelers' Troy Polamalu picked off a lateral by San Diego's Chris Chambers and ran it into the Chargers' end zone for an apparent touchdown and 17-10 victory for the Steelers, Eric and thousands of other Steelers backers.

"I'm watching this and not believing I just won this game," Miami Eric said. "At first, I thought it was a forward pass but replays showed clearly it was a lateral. No flags, game over, I'm a winner. I'm elated. These things do not happen in football games, but they did."

Alas, moments later, referee Scott Green announced that the play was under review. A review that lasted about 10 minutes, leaving bettors around the country squirming before Green decreed that Chambers tossed an "illegal forward pass" -- voiding Polamalu's touchdown. Final score: Pittsburgh 11, San Siego 10.

According to the New York Times, Green said after the game that he and the crew got the call wrong and that the touchdown should have counted.

Said Miami Eric: "The bottom fell out for me. My wife kept saying, 'They can't do this.' But they did."

On Monday, the NFL also admitted the call was incorrect but didn't change the score. Neither Miami Eric nor his wife was consoled.

Quick Slants

· Jim Zorn today has his toughest task so far as a first-year Redskins coach. He needs to halt his 6-4 team's two-game skid against a 2-8 Seattle team desperate to defeat its former quarterbacks coach.

Zorn knows Pittsburgh and Dallas were able to shut down Santana Moss because the Redskins have lacked a big-play No. 2 wide receiver. (How are those rookie receivers working out?) If Jason Campbell is holding the ball too long, maybe the offensive line needs to protect him better. And maybe Campbell should look to Chris Cooley more.

Clinton Portis should be healthier, as might Jason Taylor and his fellow rushmen, who need to pressure Elisabeth Hasselbeck's brother-in-law, or Monday's WRC-TV News4 Today, featuring Erin Burnett reporting the daily demise of the Nikkei, will be the bleakest hour in television history.

· Very optimistic about the Nats' chances of landing a free agent or two after reading colleague Tom Boswell's column this week in which he wrote: "This free agent class is so deep that there ought to be enough prizes to go around for every team that's got the cash to be interested."

But then I read in Friday's New York Times that Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, told a meeting of baseball owners on Thursday that the economy was bad. That bit of revealing news likely will prevent the Family Lerner from joining the Manny Ramírez-Mark Teixeira sweepstakes and, in a show of good faith, returning Dmitri Young to Citibank.

· With the Obamas enrolling their two daughters into Sidwell Friends on Friday, I haven't seen such a local recruiting frenzy since Joe Paterno snatched Eleanor Roosevelt High School star Derrick Williams to play for the Nittany Lions four years ago.

· No column next Sunday. I'm spending Thanksgiving Week grandparenting -- trying to reverse the bad habits my sons are inflicting on these wonderful children.

Have a comment or question? Reach me at talkback@washpost.com.

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