Washington Wizards Guard Gilbert Arenas Says He Had to Test his Surgically-Repaired Knee Now

Gilbert Arenas
Gilbert Arenas says a desire to find out as soon as possible how his knee fares in games, and give it a thumbs-up, explains why he's playing in end-of-season contests. (Jonathan Ernst - Reuters)
By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gilbert Arenas understands the concerns of Washington Wizards fans who worry about him putting his surgically repaired left knee at risk by participating in meaningless late-season games for a lottery-bound team. He also hears complaints from others who believe that his comeback may negatively influence the number of ping-pong balls the Wizards collect in the NBA's draft lottery.

But this is not about Arenas being self-indulgent or even careless. It's about reassurance. "I can play now or I can play at the beginning of next season and get hurt. Who knows? You're not going to know until you get out there and test it," Arenas said. "Fans are fans. They're looking out for next year. They want to make sure I'm healthy for next season. At the end of the day, I have to find out where [the knee] is at. I can't go all the way into summer and into next season wondering if I can jump, run or do any of those things."

Arenas returned on Saturday after missing the first 73 games of the season and showed that he can jump, run and do other things -- such as pass -- while scoring 15 points with 10 assists in 29 minutes in his first NBA game in more than 11 months. A day later in Indianapolis, Arenas said he didn't experience any discomfort or soreness in his knee, but the rest of him felt some aches and pains after absorbing the hits and falls that can only come from real, live game action. "The knee is fine," Arenas said on Sunday. "The body hurts."

Arenas sat out the Wizards' 124-115 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, adhering to a policy of not playing in back-to-back games. He still intends to play against Cleveland on Thursday but said he will leave the final decision up to the Wizards' training staff, which will continue to monitor how his knee is progressing.

The Wizards' miserable 17-58 season has provided him with the opportunity to be more cautious with his third attempt to return from a knee injury he initially suffered nearly two years ago against Charlotte -- an injury that has resulted in three surgeries. "It was one of those things where I said: 'If you're going to do it, make sure it's 100 percent. Don't worry about anything else. Don't worry about getting injured. Don't worry about that,' " Arenas said. "That's how I went out and played [on Saturday]."

He admitted that he rushed back from a microfracture procedure last season as the team earned a playoff spot, mostly with him sidelined. His comeback last season was going well, Arenas said, until Game 2 of Washington's first-round series in Cleveland, where he tweaked his knee landing on teammate Antawn Jamison's foot. Arenas said he didn't know the severity of the injury because he also hurt his wrist during the game while trying to defend LeBron James. Arenas took pain medication for his wrist, which he said masked the pain in his knee. "I came back the next day and I was like, 'Why am I limping?' " he said. "That pain in the back [of the leg], I didn't know. Then it was just too much pain."

Arenas continued playing until he shut himself down for good before Game 5 in Cleveland. He took the advice of doctors and trainers and elected to rest over the summer, assuming the pain would subside. He now regrets that decision. "Looking back now, I should have scoped it as soon as the season was over with," said Arenas, who eventually had the procedure in September, two months after he signed a six-year, $111 million contract. "Once January came, I felt stronger, like this is how I felt back when."

Arenas gradually increased his workload from one-on-one games with teammate Nick Young to two-on-two contests until he felt comfortable enough to practice full speed on Feb. 16. Arenas also changed his attitude about lower-body weightlifting, realizing his legs never regained their strength. He committed himself to strengthening his quadriceps muscles through squats for the first time. He said he lifted seven days a week and squatted a maximum of 505 pounds. He tried working out in the pool, which takes pressure off the joints, but said, "You know, you get in the pool, and it's like, 'Okay, kids, let's go swimming.' "

Young said he was initially afraid of attacking Arenas during their one-on-one contests, but realized it was okay when Arenas didn't show any fear and ratcheted up his trash talk with comments such as: "Don't guard me. I don't want to take your confidence. The team is going to need you tonight."

Arenas has had plenty of time to reflect on mistakes he has made. But he said he is no longer focused on what he didn't do or upset about getting benched the night he got hurt when Charlotte's Gerald Wallace landed on his leg. "Right now, it's a blessing in disguise. It happened for a reason," Arenas said. "I can't keep harping on what I could've been back then. I've got to move my leg out of the way and just keep going. This can be taken away from you at any given moment, so you just have to appreciate it for what it is."

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