Gilbert Arenas, a three-time NBA All-Star and one of the most electric players in the league for a stretch in the mid-2000s, had an opportunity in 2012 to play alongside future Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers. Arenas, who had just been amnestied by Orlando, crushed his workout but admitted to sabotaging his subsequent interview as a self-defense mechanism, fearing Lakers management would bring up his past including a highly-publicized firearms incident during his time with the Wizards.
“I tried out for the Los Angeles Lakers, did very well,” Arenas told former ESPN personality and Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard on his South Beach Sessions podcast. “I botched the meeting. I sabotaged it. They’re asking me, 'When can you be ready to come?’ Maybe a month? It’s March. To be honest you don’t really need a player like me. You just need to tweak the second unit, make them a little faster and you guys are perfect.”
Following a heated argument with teammate Javaris Crittenton over an unpaid gambling debt in December of 2009, Arenas was discovered to have an unloaded gun in his locker at Verizon Center, Washington’s home arena. After making light of the incident with a shooting gesture during pregame introductions weeks later, Arenas was suspended the remainder of the season for what the Wizards described as “conduct detrimental to the team.” He also served a month sentence in a halfway house after pleading guilty to carrying an unlicensed pistol, a felony in D.C.
Agent Zero, as he was called by Wizards fans, would return the following season, but Arenas was never the same player. Transformed by guilt and his tarnished reputation, the incident and its aftermath sapped what little was left of Arenas’ broken confidence.
“And that was my answer. Like you didn’t really need me. Thirty days [left in the regular season], so I can go back home. I’m not coming to L.A. You guys are going to crucify me,” recalls the 6’4” guard, who, despite it being his childhood dream to play for the Lakers, had no intention of joining his hometown team. “That’s when Kobe came out and said, ‘I want Agent Zero.’ And I’m like, with all due respect, Kobe wants a player that no longer exists mentally.”
Knowing the Lakers would inevitably grill him about his gun incident, Arenas’ fight or flight instinct kicked in. “After the workout, they start asking me questions like, okay, he’s going to talk about the guns. I know he’s going to talk about the guns. And I’m sitting there getting nervous like is he going to ask about it? So I’m already trying to prepare myself to somehow get out of this whole interview.”
Arenas resists being labeled a victim for his “own stupidity,” though he did cite his declining play, the result of countless knee injuries, as a factor in his unusually stiff punishment. “You have a guy who signed a $111-million contract whose had three knee surgeries within 14 months. We don’t need him anymore. We need to off the contract. That’s the reason the story came out a certain way, that I was the aggressor,” said Arenas, alluding the Wizards were looking for a way to unload his contract. “Like I never touched a gun. Never had fingerprints on the gun. What I did is say, those are my guns. I never said I put them there, never said I touched them. I said those were mine. I claimed them. Which I could have easily said they weren’t mine. But I was an honest guy.”
Arenas, who now cohosts the No Chill Podcast on fuboTV, had plenty to say about “cancel culture” and the impact it’s had on his career. “If a guy does something wrong and you cancel him, and he changes his life, changes his behavior, does the steps to be a better human being and he gets back to the top of the stairs, you can’t keep using the same one thing to keep pushing him back down,” said Arenas. “I was 28. I was a franchise guy. I was egotistic. I was a competitor. I’m retired. I’m 39. That is not the same person. I haven’t been in trouble since. I haven’t touched a gun since.”
The former second-round pick raises an interesting point about our capacity to forgive, lamenting the futility of comebacks and introspection when the general public can’t let go of a mistake made over a decade ago. “One time out of my 39 years, I have 38 years of being a good human being. Why do you keep focusing on the one thing? What is the point of ever actually trying to improve yourself if no one actually ever accepts it?”
It’s a fair question.