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Butterfly Effect: How Gilbert Arenas' decision not to smile caused a storm of keystrokes many miles away

The concept of the butterfly effect was born out of chaos theory.  In 1961, a MIT mathematician and meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, was attempting to use computers and data to more effectively predict future weather patterns over long periods of time.  Lorenz, the father of chaos theory and the butterfly effect, theorized that it was not possible to predict accurately due to small variables that could have an unforeseen impact on weather patterns.  One allegory that he used to describe the phenomenon was that a butterfly flapping its wings in South America, could have an effect on the weather in New York City's Central park.  The butterfly effect was born as a term to describe how small, seemingly unrelated actions, could produce unintended waves of activity elsewhere.  (The concept was also employed in a 2004 New Line Cinema film named, The Butterfly Effect.)

It is my belief that when there is an absence of news, writers, particularly national commentators turn to their go-to people.  Particularly those who routinely say something zany and for many, Gilbert Arenas is one of those people.  For much of his time in Washington, not only was he fairly transparent, telling you exactly what he thought, he often did this regardless of the potential consequences of his words.  He was also ahead of most of his contemporaries, in how he embraced social media.  Through his blog (and later Twitter), fans and NBA writers had virtually unlimited access to his unfiltered thoughts.  This level of access and Gilbert's willingness to tell you what was on his mind, created a boon for writers looking for material.  And with Gilbert Arenas making his return to the NBA following his suspension, many writers now had a legitimate potential story and also the return of their resident quote machine.  Happy days are here again... or so they thought.

To the disappointment to many in the media, Gilbert Arenas is only speaking to the media when required and is keeping his answers relatively brief.  He also decided, in typical Gilbert fashion, that he was not going to smile during the media day photo shoot.  Oh my!  Clearly, there must be something wrong with him (sarcasm)!  Please tell the Wizards staff to get him some professional help or maybe they should just trade him.  (Even though no GM in the league will trade for him until he proves that he is close to the old Gilbert and looks like he is healthy enough to play an entire season, particularly given the size of his remaining contract.  And also let's ignore the fact that team owner, Ted Leonsis has expressed no desire to trade him.  But why should we let those pesky details get in the way of our story?)

Before we go any further, let me disclose my biases.  I am a Wizards fan and blogger.  I have been a Gilbert Arenas fan since he joined the team in 2003.  I love his talent.  I enjoyed the swagger that he played with on the court.  And like many Wizards fans, I also gotten annoyed by his occasional antic and at times by his candor (or more accurately his lack of filter).  But that's all it was, an annoyance because in total his positive traits on and off the court far outweighed his negative traits.  (I will also add that I have wanted him to be both an extremely talented offensive player and a lock-down defender.  But I acknowledge that only a select few players have the unique combination of talent, drive and focus to excel on both sides of the court.  If nothing else, he can increase his focus on defense, particularly on the pick and roll.  I'm just saying.)

Coming into this off-season I firmly believe that there were those who write only occasionally about the team that were fully expecting to write about and/or comment upon Gilbert Arenas' formal apology statement.  They were disappointed to find out that David Stern recommended that he and the team leave that situation in the past and just move on.  I even remember reading a couple of articles by people questioning if that was legal - they were concerned with Gilbert's rights to free speech.  After I stopped laughing, I was touched with how concerned they were for his rights.  I assume they contacted the ACLU on his behalf.  David Stern did not forbid him to talk about the situation; he only suggested that he and the team not address it.  Consider for a moment, what benefit would Gilbert Arenas, the Washington Wizards or the league receive by him commenting on that situation?  Unless his comments were tightly scripted - which would have been criticized for not being from the heart - there would be much more risk and very little reward in him addressing the situation.

The idea that by Arenas making a statement that would resolve all of the questions is false.  Members of the media would then want to ask questions.  This same group would further complain if he only made a statement and did not answer any of their questions.  If they received a statement followed by a Q&A session, then each sentence of his statement and answers to the Q&A would be parsed.  And any perceived inconsistencies would generate further questions.  So it is likely that the questions would continue over an extended period of time.

I had a few people say to me, when discussing this issue, that they would have liked for him to just address it and possibly apologize for what he did to the team.  My initial reaction to this sentiment is that a comment like that addresses that person's specific need and not necessarily what is in the best interest of Arenas, the Wizards or the NBA.  However, I do understand the need.  Typically when you make a mistake, you apologize and everyone moves on.  I also understand that one of the cardinal sins in damage control is avoiding the issue.  However, a person, team, league, etc also has to weigh the potential benefits versus the potential for additional damage in any additional statements.  And whether we agree or not, for largely our own personal reasons, the player, team and league appear to agree that in this instance it is best to move on without the formal public apology and Q&A session.  Only time will tell if they were correct in their assessment.

Gilbert Arenas made choices that broke league and team rules, he also broke laws in Washington, DC.  He exacerbated the problem by appearing to mock the situation before a game in Philadelphia.  He has accepted responsibility and paid the consequences of those actions with the team, league and DC court system.  However, members of the media either weren't paying close enough attention, don't remember or don't care that Arenas reportedly felt that members of the media helped to fuel outrage by reporting things that weren't entirely true.  (His unwise finger gun mockery reportedly took aim at these erroneous reports and was not intended to show up David Stern.)  Given that, is it hard to believe that Arenas may have trust issues with members of the media, particularly in discussing an issue that nearly ended his career?

I am familiar with the old saying that time heals all wounds.  I don't remember location ever being a part of that saying.  There was a time - before 24-hour news and the internet - when a person (famous or otherwise) could move to a new city and simply reinvent him or herself.  However, those days are long gone.  Particularly for someone who has been so heavily reported.  The idea that Gilbert Arenas would recover more quickly in a new city, largely because he would receive less questions is just false.  In many ways, he is receiving a new start in Washington.  He is only one of four players remaining from the team that started last season, he plays in a city that generally does not employ an overly critical media, he is playing in front of fans that largely still love him (and remember the good works that he did in the community) and most importantly he is playing for a new owner (Ted Leonsis) who has suggested that Arenas needs to be "re-embraced as a person and a player."

So while Arenas' lack of smile and limited availability to the media has caused a flood of keystrokes largely psychoanalyzing him and feigned concern over his well being.  I completely reject the flawed notion that the only way he can recover some semblance of his career is by being moved to another cityWhile there are some examples of this being a success, there are also examples of players remaining with their team and playing through challenging times.  Probably the best example is about 40 miles north.  The Wizards and Gilbert Arenas only have to look up I-95 to the Baltimore Raven's Ray Lewis.  The last I checked, he did not have to leave Baltimore in order to recover from his troubled past.

Gilbert Arenas should continue to do what he is doing, let his play speak louder than his words.  His play will either cement his position on this team and/or cause other GMs to come looking for his services.  Nothing that he (or allegedly his "confidants") can say, will speak louder than his performance on the basketball court.   (Oh, and whoever these alleged confidants are, you are not doing him any favors so you may want to avoid interviews.)  Gilbert Arenas' relative silence is music to my ears because the time for words has past and we are currently in the time for action.

Gilbert Arenas should be measured by what he does on the court and his interactions with the team.  So far, the coaching staff and front office has not complained about his play, or (what those on the outside purport to be) his demeanor.  It is easy to point to a few pictures in which he elects not to smile, a few quotes in which he is explaining why he will not smile during media day and right a story that suggests that he must be depressed.  It is easy if you also ignore (or weren't there to witness) the smiles that he has shared with teammates, the joy he exhibited after Lester Hudson's game winning shot, the advice that John Wall says that Gilbert Arenas provides to him.  This does not sound like the actions of a "depressed" player to me.  It does sound like a guy who has no interest in talking with members of the media right now and is only doing so when he absolutely must.

And maybe those in the media (old, new or hybrid) can spend less time trying to determine what a person is or is not thinking from pictures and occasional monotone quotes.  The action of these writers serves only to create tempests when none may truly exist.   Remember, just because you watch "Lie to Me" does not mean that you are qualified to analyze microexpressions.