When it all changed for Gilbert Arenas, for better and worse

Gilbert Arenas provided plenty of memories on the court for the Wizards and Washington, but his enduring legacy is different.
Gilbert Arenas provided plenty of memories on the court for the Wizards and Washington, but his enduring legacy is different. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)
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By Mike Wise
Sunday, January 17, 2010

When did I know Gilbert Arenas had changed a franchise and a city? Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2007, almost three years ago to the day.

He had just let fly another deep rainbow jumper that won a game at the horn for the home team. Amid the pandemonium, two old-school players who had seen everything in Washington were sought out for comment.

"We finally got us one," said Steve, an arena security guard for the Bullets/Wizards the past two decades. "We finally got a bona fide superstar. Michael was nice, but that was different than this."

Dave, the reliable sentry next to the entrance to the team's locker room area, shook his head with delight after the player they affectionately called "Gil" had equaled Michael Jordan's 51-point arena record that day. "Woo-eee!" he said, surveying the box score. "That's definitely the MVP."

We finally got us one.

So many creaky-kneed stars had already passed through, someone else's stars: Michael. Mitch Richmond. Moses Malone. Bernard King. Spencer Haywood.

So many talented youngsters unable to grab the torch because they were either still too knuckleheaded to understand (Chris Webber), not quite gifted enough to live up to their exorbitant contract (Juwan Howard) or not appreciated enough when they were here (Rip Hamilton).

But Gilbert was different. He arrived in 2003, stopping and popping from beyond 25 and 30 feet, making aging hoopheads and new-jack kids believe in a franchise that had come to know two things well: losing and the lottery.

Halfway through that season, he had hit 11 shots to end either a quarter, half or game. He broke Earl Monroe's single-game scoring record by outdueling Kobe Bryant in overtime. Sixty points in L.A. -- followed up by a 54-point performance against Steve Nash and the Suns.

Then came that 51-point game against the Jazz. At the time, just two other players in the past two decades had had three 50-point games within a 15-game span: Michael and Kobe.

A Southern California kid, Arenas somehow became part of Washington the way LeBron James was always of Cleveland, the kind of player a fan would boast of to his South Florida co-worker on their break.

"You might have D-Wade, but we got Agent Zero."

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