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Post Magazine: Gilbert Arenas

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Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2007; 12:00 PM

Gilbert Arenas has always thought of himself as an underdog, abelief that has been the key motivation for his extraordinary basetball career.The Wizards superstar has now gone from 0 to 10, but, as Mike Wise learns in his story in this week's Washington Post Magazine, Arenas may not be ready to see himself as the victor he's become. View the photo gallery.

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Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Post. He has co-authored two books, "Shaq Talks Back," with Shaquille O'Neal, and "Just Ballin': The Chaotic Rise of the New York Knicks," with Frank Isola.

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Bethesda, MD: I loved your article. Thanks for giving us the insight to the area's most intriguing athlete. A lot was made of the fact that Gilbert's arch nemesis, Lebron James, has a mean streak and that it takes a mean streak to be able to win. I'm alluding to the Cavs vs. Wiz game 6 from two seasons ago when Lebron walked up to Gilbert and said to him you'll lose the game if you miss these free throws (the Wiz were up at the time). Do you think this is true and do you also think that winning can be achieved by someone like Gil who craves genuine adoration more so than anything else in basketball. Thanks.

Mike Wise: thanks much. It's a great question. I'm always asked, "Do you think Gilbert has enough of a killer instinct to lead the Wiz to a title?" as if players who aren't as cutthroat as people like, say, Michael Jordan or LeBron James, have no shot at leading a team to a title. I don't believe that anymore. Gilbert used to be just a great scorer, but after seeing him backpack the Wizards on many nights last season I believe he has that competitive desire to take his team to the next level. He just happens to be a people person, too, which is rare among many big-time athletes

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Alexandria, VA: Thanks for following up on your article from last year. That article is still one of the best written pieces of sports literature I've ever read. Gilbert has a really inspiring story and Washington is lucky to have him. Will you pen the definitive Gilbert biography when all is said and done? Perhaps a collaborative with Ivan, Michael, and Steinerg?

Mike Wise: Thanks. When David Rowell, one of the Post's magazine editors, first approached me the story, my thought was, "I just wrote everything I knew about Gilbert," referring to the long story I wrote about his background last year. But he convinced there was a fuller profile out there for the person who knew nothing about Gilbert and, many months later, I feel he was right. I don't know about a book yet. On one hand, it's a moneymaker. On the other, Gilbert is just 26. He's got a whole life ahead of him before anything definitive can be chronicled. And, also, I'd have to split the money with Steinberg, Ivan and Michael Lee. : )

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Washington, DC: as a new season ticket holder, i appreciate the retrospective on Arenas but why is the club so hesitant to put a franchise player like him out front? Is it because they're afraid he might turn out like Allen Iverson?

Mike Wise: On the contrary, they put Gilbert on a billboard on New York Ave. a year ago and are constantly selling him and his image to the public. They also do it with a lot of their players, who are generally good guys. As far as Iverson goes, I mean, young Allen Iverson isn't the Allen Iverson of today. He's a much different person now than the young kid who came into the league. The only hesitancy I would have of putting Gilbert out front is his contract situation. If there was any chance of him leaving via free agency in the summer, well, then I might pull back on the marketing.

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Alexandria, VA: That was a fascinating article. I don't even follow basketball, and I devoured that story. Have you seen any indication that Gilbert will talk to his mother again or try to build any kind of relationship with his siblings?

Mike Wise: Thanks very much for the kind words. If it lured any non-sports fans into a story about an intriguing person, who just happens to be a great basketball player, I feel like we've done our job.

I think Gilbert is really leery of re-connecting with people he hasn't spent more than two minutes with since he was 3 years old. He's got his family of choice in his corner. Except for his father, his family of origin wasn't there for him as a child. And I think it would be incredibly hard to get past that while you're also trying to forge a life and a career at his age. I wouldn't be surprised if he opened that door after his career was over. I get the feeling right now he just has his hands full trying to negotiate the crazy NBA world he's living in.

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Silver Spring, Md: I am getting tired of reading about Arenas' personal life. It is an amazing story, but it has been told enough now. I am starting to feel he is being exploited. Particularly when you say you are considering writing a book about him to make money. Enough is enough. Let's get back to basketball.

Mike Wise: I'm sorry your annoyed by the tale of the rare athlete who lets people in to his private world. Lord knows there are hundreds of them like Gilbert. (Actually, there is but one other -- Shaq). One, I'm not considering writing a book about Gilbert. No one has officially approached me and the world is full of life stories written by 26-year-old men. Check out T.O.'s very forgettable autobiography. Two, exploitation? Gilbert? He's exploiting us. No, in all sincerity, this is a mutually beneficial relationship. He has decided to bare his soul on many things. I am forever grateful to he, his father and his family for shedding light on his life in a manner that might help others. In fact, after I wrote the piece last year, I asked him if he was okay with the personal nature of everything I had written -- even after he opened up to me about these things. His quote: "You know what? This is the kind of story where other people who got left as a kid can maybe read it and feel like they're not alone." If you want stats or quotes about the Princeton offense, I got of ton of Web sites I can point you to.

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umbc: your article was amazing, just like the one you did last year (zero to hero)! How do u think things will play out this offseason as far as him opting out? Do you think D.C. will be able to keep the greatest sports personality this city has seen? What angers me is despite his greatness and affable personality, is how under-recognized he is by even his own washingtonians not to mention nationally. What will it take for gilbert arenas to reach that iconic figure, like jordan, manning and such? I know it will take a championship, but i think he needs better marketing, if it werent for nike i dont think jordan would be nearly the iconic figure he was. I mean he used to have the best commercials. I think it will also take better ownership that puts there superstar out there to the nation.

Mike Wise: Thank you for the praise. How can Gilbert become more of a national and regional figure? Line up at tailback for Joe Gibbs. Until the Wizards advance to the NBA finals, I think Gilbert and the team are more of a curiosity than a full-fledged passion play around here. They're young, fun to watch and they have a superstar who is worth the price of admission of every night. And Gilbert and the rebirth of Georgetown -- Gary Williams, George Mason -- have definitely awakened what used to be a great basketball town. But it's a football area in many ways because of the pro team's allure. The only way that will change is if Gilbert, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison go the NBA finals.

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Gainesville VA: From what you have seen do you think Gil's knee will be 100% this year?

Mike Wise: No. Let me correct that. I don't see how anyone, even an elite athlete, can be 100 percent off the bat after having had surgery less than six months ago. Kobe was limping at the start of last season, if you remember. I think he'll go through a lot of up and down nights through the first three months. By February or so, as long as he doesn't re-injure himself, I wouldn't be surprised if that's when you start seeing the old Gilbert in full.

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Chad, HoopsBlogging: That was the most insightful article I've ever read on the man. Thanks for taking the time and energy you did to deliver such an incredible piece!

You mentioned that this article was written last year in a previous question response - have there been any updates since then that aren't in the piece - such as Gil's mom making contact?

Keep up the great work!

Mike Wise: Chad, thanks. The Magazine article was written this year. I last updated it about three weeks ago. But I did write an in-depth piece about Gilbert's past that ran in the newspaper last October. That's what I was referring to. No, to my knowledge, he has yet to make contact with his mother. I just don't see that happening for a while. And, frankly, I can't blame him.

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Ann Arbor, Mich: Do you think the Wizards have a legitimate shot at winning the Eastern Conference this year? With Gilbert opting out and Antawn becoming a free agent, this may be the last opportunity this team has for a championship.

Mike Wise: Yes, the Wizards could win the East this year. It's not like the West, where it only comes down to San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas. I don't think this is their last chance because I believe Gilbert will re-sign with the Wizards as long as they're moving in the right direction. But it is pivotal year; no question. They need to get to the next level of the playoffs, meaning deep into the second round or the conference finals -- at the least.

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Burke, VA: I like Gilbert Arenas, I really do but I am haunted by one question: Does he have any appreciation for how lucky he is?

Mike Wise: Beyond appreciative. If there was a fork in the road, where on one side was extreme poverty and parental neglect and the other represented food on the table and hope, Gilbert's father took the latter and allowed Gilbert to have a life and support system that would transcend into a multimillion contract in the NBA and a life he could have never imagined. So, yes, when you talk to him for any length of time, that comes across.

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Dunn Loring, VA:"Young Gilbert would have to leap five to 10 yards...."

Should say, "Young Gilbert would have to break the world long jump record" if he was going 10 yards horizontally to reach the pool.

"Down" does not equal "out" when measuring horizontal distance that a person can travel when they jump.

Let's try to keep the myth building within believable bounds, OK??

BTW, people in Daytona Beach die every year trying to do this type of stupidity....you get another demerit for putting an idea out for the spring break kids who might be reading this stuff.

Mike Wise: It was probably more like five yards, I didn't measure the exact distance. But I appreciate the myth-building concerns in our business. It happens all too often where we embellish a person's background. Trust me, this didn't happen in this story. I don't work like that. Are you one of those people who hated Field of Dreams and Forrest Gump? I thought so. Relax. Live a little. No one is going to emulate a 12-year-old kid being stupid. It's not 25-year-olds at Daytona.

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Van Nuys, Calif..:

WOW!

Quite literally one of the two or three most inspiring articles I have ever read.

This story is screaming to (at the very least) be a book.

Thank you Mike, and thank you Gil Jr. and Gil Sr.!

Mike Wise: Thank you, thank you, thank you. But I gotta ask: What was the other story? Please write back

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Alexandria, VA: There comes a time where franchise guys start to get a reputation around the league where players want to play with them or don't want to play with them. Where is Arenas on that scale?

Mike Wise: Great, great question -- I may steal that for a column at some point. : ). If I polled the entire NBA, I think that would be a 50/50 question. I mean, if you're a great rebounder and defensive player, Gil is your man -- the one guy separating you from the lottery and playoffs. If you've got a team of good scorers and you're bringing in another cat who wants the rock and knows he's the guy to take the last shot, well, let's just say Kobe would say no.

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umbc: its me again, and i understand your view that it will take an nba finals trip for recognition, however before the wizards made the playoffs three seasons in a row, when people asked the same question, the response was consistent playoff appearances, and now that they have that it still hasnt changed. i mean its disheartening to go to a playoff game and fans are in their seats. And these are probably the same fans that are rowdy at fedex field. also, if you were Grunfeld, do you sign gilbert to a max contract this offseason?

Mike Wise: Wizards fans are a little pathetic when it comes to the playoffs, although they got up and made noise against Chicago in the first round of 2005. I was spoiled in New York for 10 years, where every night at Madison Square Garden was a great Broadway play. But I really believe winning two rounds and playing for a chance to be in the NBA finals would turn this town and their fans on its ear. And, yes, Ernie Grunfeld knows he has to sign Gilbert to a max deal to keep him. It's the only way. As David Falk would say, "It's protecting your investment."

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Reston, VA: How much does Gilbert like being a Wizard? How likely is it that Abe will not re-sign him to a Max contract?

Mike Wise: Gilbert loves the team, the community and Washington in general. It's not likely at all that Abe Pollin won't give Gilbert a max deal. He's not going to lose his no. 1 ticket-seller since buying the franchise in 1964.

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Silver Spring, MD: I am a long time season ticket holder for the Wizards. Each time I read a story about Gilbert, I feel that he has no respect for women. His mother was only 18 when she gave birth. At that time, she didn't have a job or hope for the future. She turned to drugs to escape reality. Gilbert is angry with his mother for leaving him; however, his daddy abandons him for 3 years. His relationship with his babies' mother is not that great. Why does he refuse to just talk with his mother? Maybe it will help him to understand women.

Mike Wise: There is a lot of black and white in your question/comment. Take my word for this: at no point in researching his life the past year did I find any moral certainties or extreme clarity -- except that Gilbert is a goofball. I don't think he rejects his mother and doesn't want to see her again, but it's his birth mother. That's it. It's like that song Shaq recorded several years ago, which, sadly enough, I have in my CD collection, "My biological didn't bother." If your father or mother brought you into the world but never were able to take care of you because their own demons got the best of them, are they really to be respected and loved as a parent?

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Pasadena, MD: Mike, thank you for your wonderful story about one of my favorite athletes! I never knew the whole story about Gilbert's childhood, but I knew he was driven by a power within himself that few men use positively. I hope others are as inspired by his charity and humanity as I am.

Linda

Mike Wise: Thanks, Linda. Amen to that.

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Rockville, MD: Mike,

I know this is a discussion about Gilbert, but I have to ask. Is there any truth the the article by Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune that says that there are trade discussions occurring with Kobe coming to the Wizards for Gilbert and Blatche. If true, do you believe this improves the team?

Mike Wise: I like Sam immensely and respect his work, but if Kobe comes here and Gilbert leaves I will get a Brazilian at my local manicure/pedicure shop. It's not happening.

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LeBron: I knew he would miss those free throws if I said something to rattle him. Why was he so easily rattled? What is his response when asked about those critcal missed FT's?

Mike Wise: Way to man-up in the Finals, LeBron. You showed Duncan and Parker and Ginobili. Go home and practice your free throws, son.

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Laurel, MD: Mr. Wise,

In your personal opinion, why do you think Gilbert has yet to reach out to his half siblings? I can understand the mother but the sisters and brotheres are innocent bystanders. Maybe they just want to get to know their big brother. Not everyone is out to use him or wants his money.

Mike Wise: Tough one to answer. I just think when you're that age, well, you just don't want to deal with any of that stuff. You don't think about saving the world or reuniting with long-lost siblings. You're thinking about saving yourself. That was me at that age, anyway.

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Atlanta, Ga: A comment/question - I don't typically care about pro athletes for most of the reasons you have stated in several articles - they're too selfish, self-centered, self-enamoured, etc. but the G.A. story is truly an enjoyable experience.

I'm a very casual pro basketball fan and was really disenchanted with the Chris Webber/Juwan Howard/Rod Strickland legacy and gradually lost interest in the Bullets/Wizards. However, I credit G.A. with bringing a refreshing new attitude to such a selffish, disconnected profession for my renewed interest in this franchise.

There's one story that you didn't touch on that I would have liked to learn more about - it was truly an amazing gesture from a pro athlete that really put G.A. on my radar screen. About two years ago a little boy lost his family in a fire - Gilbert took it upon himself to become a foster father/mentor to this child. What has become of this little boy?

Mike Wise: I don't know all the details on his life -- and, yes, it would have been nice to include in the story -- but I do know Gilbert still mentors him and see him occasionally. I saw him in the Wizards' locker room a couple times last year.

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Mike Wise: I went a little overtime, but thanks for hanging in there. I left about 20 questions in the que that I simply couldn't get to. All of them were thoughtful and made me want to respond. So, since you took the time to write, I will personally answer them if you cut and paste your original question and email me at wisem@washpost.com. I'll get to all of them by Tuesday afternoon. Promise. Again, thanks. And have a great week. Is it okay if I say hi to my sister Valeska on this thing? It's not? Okay, sorry. : )

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