Washington Wizards move on as references to Arenas disappear from Verizon Center
Saturday, January 9, 2010
A few pairs of Adidas sneakers and an autographed Sam Cassell basketball card was all that could be found in Gilbert Arenas's otherwise empty locker room stall on Friday. After the Washington Wizards pulled out an emotional 104-97 win over the Orlando Magic, DeShawn Stevenson buttoned his blue shirt and glanced over at the spot that his neighbor usually occupied and said he would like to see Arenas sitting under his name plate again before this season ends.
"Me and him got a real close relationship. He's like a brother to me," Stevenson said. "My thing is to see him back. If he doesn't, I hope to see him in an NBA uniform. When a person gets kicked down so much -- I've been there before -- I just want to be as positive as I can. Mentally, it's just trying."
It was easy to understand why the Wizards' minds weren't completely on basketball before facing the Magic. Earlier in the day, Randy Foye and Fabricio Oberto had to speak to law enforcement officials about the Gilbert Arenas weapons possession case. On Thursday, Coach Flip Saunders had to do the same.
And they all had to prepare to play their first home game without Arenas while the team continues to remove the image of the former face of the franchise.
Arenas's No. 0 jersey and other merchandise were no longer on sale in the arena, and his highlights were removed from all pregame videos. This came a day after a large banner of Arenas was taken down from the Sixth Street side of the building. Reached by telephone on Friday, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld denied that the organization is distancing itself from Arenas after NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended the three-time all-star indefinitely for his conduct after it was revealed that he got into a dispute involving guns with teammate Javaris Crittenton.
"We're not phasing Gilbert out," Grunfeld said. "We're just focusing on the players that we have available to us."
Saunders was asked if the team was preparing to play without Arenas for the remainder of the season and he said: "I think you have to, right now. That's right now how we're approaching it, because we don't know. 'Indefinite' means 'indefinite.' "
Before stepping on the court for the game, team captain Antawn Jamison addressed a sellout crowd to discuss a controversial photograph of Arenas forming his hands in the shape of guns and playfully "shooting" his teammates in a pregame huddle in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
"We know it's been a trying week," Jamison told the crowd. "One thing that my teammates and I take very seriously, is that being a positive role model is something is something that we don't take lightly. We're going to do everything in our power, as long as I'm your captain, as long as these guys are my teammates, to make this one of the most respectable organizations in the league."
"This is a serious situation," Jamison, who was among the players captured laughing in the picture, said after the game. "We never meant to make light of the situation."
The Wizards fined Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Randy Foye and Andray Blatche $10,000 each on Friday for their roles in Tuesday's incident. "I ain't going to lie," Blatche said. "It was wrong."
Saunders said before the game that this has been a difficult time for everyone within the organization. "I think right now, there is no question it's a distraction," he said.