Former Wizard Gilbert Arenas returns to Washington a fallen hero

Orlando's Gilbert Arenas, right, returns to Washington for the first time since a blockbuster trade sent him to the Magic.
Orlando's Gilbert Arenas, right, returns to Washington for the first time since a blockbuster trade sent him to the Magic. (Michael Conroy/associated Press)
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Friday, February 4, 2011; 12:44 AM

On Friday night, sometime during the first quarter, Gilbert Arenas will mosey up to the scorer's table and perhaps look toward Verizon Center's rafters, where the jerseys of Wes, The Big E, the Pearl and Gus Johnson hang.

When the whistle blows and the Orlando Magic's backup point guard checks into the game, will you boo the irresponsible multimillionaire who embarrassed the franchise and its fan base by bringing guns to work 14 months ago?

Or will you respectfully cheer one of the most dedicated athletes this city has ever seen, a guy who drove to the gym in the middle of the night because he still had that nobody-wants-me chip on his shoulder - left over from being told he would never play a minute at Arizona, left over from sleeping in a Mazda hatchback before his father found a job to support himself and his 7-year-old son?

Will you remember what was or regret what might have been?

"You know, some people just can't forgive," Arenas said Thursday. "And that's just the way life is. You know, I can't forgive some things, either. At some point I hope they can forgive me as a person.

"Maybe not as a basketball player. Maybe I wasn't worth the contract. Hey, I don't think anyone's worth $100 million if Michael Jordan wasn't, but hey, that's what Abe Pollin thought I was worth, and if someone puts $100 million in front of you, you're gonna take it, too. . . .

"So for the people who can't forgive some of the stupid things I've done and did, I was just trying to be entertaining. And the people who love me, I just want to say thank you for hanging in there and I love you guys and all the support you gave me."

In the end, the downfall of Arenas with the Washington Wizards was getting hurt again and again after signing a $111 million contract and a horrendous lack of judgment that resulted in a felony gun charge.

The consummate professional was done in by the knucklehead. He went from being the premier athlete in D.C. sports, circa 2004-07, to a pariah.

In a wide-ranging, 30-minute interview, Arenas said he worried for the team's No.1 overall pick, John Wall; he worried for the team's highest-paid player, Andray Blatche; he worried, really, for the young players he left behind, unable to free themselves from a losing mind-set.

But the person I always felt Gilbert Arenas should have spent more time worrying about was Gilbert Arenas.

Arenas's vulnerability, his willingness to peel back his own layers in an era of managed news and photo ops, was one of the reasons he became so likable. When every other mainstream star was trying to create a buffer zone, Arenas let everyone in.

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