Before we start, two caveats:
- I realize a lot of fans don't really care about how much Gilbert Arenas talks to the media.
Mike Wise's column about Arenas not talking, published Saturday, was really very good because it gave us a better idea of Arenas' perspective, which is fresh because too many people just pass judgment before trying to understand the dude. That's why Wise is the best columnist in this town.
Okay. As we all know, Gilbert Arenas has changed from the dude who can't stop talking to the dude who won't talk at all ... that is, until he was fined by the league for refusing to talk. Since that fine, he's talked to the media twice -- once for 95 seconds where he channeled his inner Rasheed Wallace, and once for 10 minutes, during which he called the assembled media "lazy."
Gilbert's argument is essentially this: he's been so nice and open with his mind, as opposed to most athletes who don't really open up to people, and all he's received in return is a ton of backlash for even very innocent comments. He's been dubbed a cancer, a coach-killer and a loose cannon, among many worse things. So if him opening his mouth to the media eventually leads to all of that, well, why should he open up to them? And because he can't blame fans, he has to blame the media, because they're an easy target and because they're ultimately the ones that write what is read.
Or, as Wise puts it:
You want to know why Gilbert Arenas isn't saying anything of real substance lately, why the NBA just fined him and his team $25,000 apiece because the Wizards' best player wasn't talking at all? (I know fans could not care less whether athletes talk to the media. Fine. But when Mr. Microphone goes underground, it's a big deal, okay?) You want to know why he gave what he called his last full-length, one-on-one interview all season during media day on a radio show I host more than two weeks ago? You want to know why he gave a very surly, un-Gilbert-like, Q & Arenas for 10 minutes after Friday's practice? That's easy.
Because the same people who kept encouraging him to obliterate the boundaries of public speech and thought -- mutter wild musings into a recorder, type the offbeat and borderline disturbing posts on the NBA.com blog he used to author -- are the same hypocrites now tired of his act.
Makes sense, doesn't it? I mean, if you tell a friend something that's for their ears only, and they go tell the world, wouldn't you wonder about whether you should be so honest with your friends? Of course you would.
But ultimately, the proper answer to this dilemma is look inside, figure out who to trust, and moderate your behavior. The wrong thing to do is to not tell anyone anything and complain about how your friends have cramped your style. Yet based on Wise's line here, it sounds like Arenas is currently taking the latter approach.
But we erected the platform. Shouldn't he be allowed to take it down?
Hold up. "We" erected the platform? No, actually, Gilbert Arenas erected his own platform by being so open, crazy, dramatic and whatnot. We might have dubbed him "Agent Zero," but he was the one who dubbed his swag to be phenomenal, who nicknamed himself "hibachi," who mocked Kobe Bryant by declaring he would shout "quality shot" after he shot. "We" may have asked him to blog for NBA.com, but it was him who decided to use it to make guarantees and talk about all-around weird stuff. I mean, other NBA players manage to blog on NBA.com without being so eccentric, surely it was possible to be funny and personable while not ruffling feathers.
Now, even if it's not the correct response in my opinion, it's totally Arenas' right to take down the platform he created for himself if he feels it's the best course of action for his career. Obviously, I will miss the crazy Gilbert Arenas, and from the perspective of a (sort of) media person, it's too bad that I might not be able to hear Arenas open himself up as much, but at a certain point, he needs to look out for himself. If he feels closing himself off is the right course of action, then it's his right to pursue it, even if we disagree.
But let's also not pretend Arenas is being forced to change. He's not. He's used media to further his image as much as media may have used him to write stories. He's marketed himself as fan-friendly just as much as the media cycle may have made him seem like a cancer. And, let's be honest, when you go through the process of having a person's thought go from his lips to the reporter to the reader, context and tone just gets lost sometimes. That's how it is. It's on you to do all you can to make sure your words stay as consistent as possible when the inevitable media process takes its course. Those are things Gilbert Arenas should really consider before he places all the blame on the messengers. He can choose to close himself off, but the choice is his and his alone.
Lest I sound like I'm simplifying a very complicated dude, rest assured, that's not the intention. Arenas might be the most difficult athlete in sports to understand. To a certain extent, he needs to be one extreme or the other in order to provide motivation for himself. He needs some extreme of people wanting something more of him, so he can prove those wrong and simultaneously create a whole new group of doubters he then needs to overcome. The temperament that may make him overly reactionary in this situation is the same temperament he needs to be great. If that's indeed the case, then grumble on, Gilbert.
But just as Arenas has the right to take down his platform, so to should we acknowledge that it was actually him who erected it.