By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; D1
The NBA and the Washington Wizards are hoping Gilbert Arenas will be able to reconnect with fans more through his actions than his words. The three-time all-star is returning after serving a 50-game suspension and a month in a halfway house after bringing guns into the Wizards' locker room at Verizon Center, but anyone expecting the loquacious Arenas to open up more about what led to that embarrassing incident and the aftermath might be sorely disappointed.
NBA Commissioner David Stern spoke with Arenas on Tuesday to express his excitement about having Arenas back in the league after the lengthy banishment, and he told Arenas he can talk about anything going forward - except the infamous dispute last December involving guns. Stern later called Wizards owner Ted Leonsis to inform him public comments from the organization about the situation are also off limits. Stern wants Arenas and the Wizards to put it all behind them.
"It's time to move on, rather than obsess about the past," Stern said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "It's just that it's been discussed, and discussed, and discussed. It's been written about, and written about, and written about on each occasion - his release, his sentencing, my ruling or what have you - and at some point, it's time to move on. I think he's entitled to do that. And I'm supportive of him. We're lucky he's well and we like the way he's worked with various groups over the summer. And we think it's time. Millions and millions of dollars later, and a new season later, I think it's time to move on. And that's what I told him."
Leonsis is set to begin his first full season as majority owner of the Wizards and said he had no problem with Stern's gag order. "I don't want to get fined. So I'm going to do what the commissioner says," Leonsis said with a laugh. "The commissioner is a very smart man. We're all best served to judge what you see in front of you, and not what happened in the past. For me, I have to be that way because I wasn't here."
When he took over for the Pollin family in June, Leonsis asked fans to "re-embrace" Arenas, who remains the Wizards' most talented and highest-paid player and has more than $80 million remaining on his contract.
Leonsis met with Arenas at his home in McLean last May and said he has spent a lot of quality time with his team's most intriguing personality.
"I believe Gilbert paid a really big price and I have empathy for the price he paid. Something that he loves was unattainable to him for three years, through injuries and the incident last year," Leonsis said. "He's excited about the upcoming season and I want to do nothing that gets in the way of his passion and excitement and love for the game and for the fans. The best way to re-bond with the fans is to play well. And people will sense right away, whether or not he's back. I can't talk about it, he can't talk about it, he has to do it. And what I've seen, I've been very impressed."
Arenas is expected to draw a lot of attention when the Wizards have their annual media day on Monday. He was once the face of the franchise, but his banner was yanked from the side of the arena last season and the team is headed in a new direction, deciding to rebuild mostly through the draft and around No. 1 overall pick John Wall.
Leonsis said there is plenty to ask Arenas aside from the gun incident.
"It doesn't serve anyone's interest to have Gilbert talking about what happened a year ago when the focus should be on the new season," Leonsis said. "How will Gilbert work with John Wall? I think that's fair game. 'Are you healthy?' 'Are you excited about playing again? How do you think this team has been constructed?' That's all fair game, but to talk about other matters in the past doesn't help the league or the team."
Arenas and Stern have spoken several times since the commissioner suspended him and Javaris Crittenton last January. Stern advised Arenas to maintain a low profile this offseason, to help the Wizards reach their goals as a team and to focus on his career and getting healthy after missing significant time following three knee surgeries.
Arenas, who was limited to just 47 games the past three seasons, worked out with trainer Tim Grover in Chicago for the second summer in a row and several people within the organization, including Leonsis, report he is in much better shape.
"He couldn't be more enthusiastic and wishing to get on the court to show his skills as a basketball player and as a teammate," Stern said. "I said, 'You know what Gilbert, I just want to tell you, I'm delighted to have you back, you've paid a heavy price, but you're in good standing and, as far as I'm concerned, you should be talking only about the future and not about the past. And if anyone asks you why, you can say the commissioner told you.' "
Arenas hasn't made any public comments since appearing in D.C. Superior Court in March before he was sentenced for felony gun possession. He stood before Judge Robert E. Morin and expressed his disappointment for an embarrassing situation that cost him more than $7 million in salary and tarnished his reputation.
"I am very sorry, you know, that this all happened," Arenas began. "Every day I wake up wishing that it didn't."
His lengthy statement may now serve as his last words on the subject.
Stern, who turned 68 on Wednesday, has handled many storms in 26 years as commissioner, but chuckled when asked how the gun incident affected him and the league. "Uh, honestly," Stern said, "I don't even think it makes the top five."