One former star, however, has provided more consistent support than anyone else. That player is Gilbert Arenas.
Arenas led the Wizards to then-unprecedented heights from the time he signed with the Wizards in 2003 as a free agent to the time he was traded to the Magic in 2010. Along the way, we saw him:
- Lead Washington to four consecutive playoff seasons from 2005-2008
- Play a part in Wizards' playoff lore with this buzzer-beater over Kirk Hinrich in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.
- Earn three consecutive All-Star appearances from 2005-2007
- Be an All-Star starter in 2007. Arenas was the first one not named Michael Jordan in franchise history since Bernard King in 1991.
- Score a franchise-record 60 points against the Lakers on December 17, 2006
If you are between 25 to 35 years old and weren't into Wizards basketball before the mid-2000's, Arenas was likely the player who you really wanted to see. He certainly was the first player who got me to watch this team more avidly on a day-to-day basis.
Unfortunately, the last three and a half years of Arenas' career in Washington weren't good to say the least. On April 4, 2007, he injured his knee late in the 2006-07 season after he collided with Gerald Wallace.
He would get three knee surgeries over the next two years, but would never regain his All-Star form again.
And after a putrid 19-63 2008-09 season, the Wizards started their 2009-10 season on the wrong note and were well below .500 during the first season of Flip Saunders' tenure. Then, Arenas got in a gambling dispute with reserve guard Javaris Crittenton and their personal firearms were drawn in the locker room in December 2009. Ultimately, both Arenas and Crittenton were suspended for the remainder of that year for that incident. Arenas was sentenced to two years of probation plus 30 days in a halfway house for it while Crittenton received a lighter sentence.
In part because of the gun incident, a pending sale between Abe Pollin's estate and then minority owner Ted Leonsis, and the team's core of Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler running its course, the Wizards traded away the foundation of their team. After the 2009-10 season mercifully came to an end, the Wizards won the first pick in the draft and selected John Wall, the first major draft pick in Leonsis' majority ownership of the franchise.
Since Wall played the same position Arenas did, it seemed all but inevitable that the end of an era was coming for Agent Zero's time in D.C. On December 18, 2010, Arenas was traded to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Rashard Lewis. Several months after the trade, Leonsis explained to Michael Lee of the Washington Post that Arenas wasn't seeing eye to eye with them on rebuilding:
I was offended. I said to Gilbert, ‘Let’s make this work. I got your back.' When he left, it really was a breath of fresh air came into the locker room and the building. I underestimated how much focus, time, attention, emotion, history was around him. It ended up being the best thing for us, because it really did put the pivot from old to new in concrete, if you will. Okay, there is no more Big Three [Arenas, Jamison, Butler] here. It’s all about the young kids and John, it’s your team.
Over five years have passed since the gun incident in the Wizards' locker room. Those five years have given me some time to reflect on Arenas' time in D.C. as a fan.
At the time of the incident, I wanted Arenas' contract voided. I was very angry at him for putting himself in the situation that he did and wanted a clean break from him as soon as it was feasible. I was glad that he was out well before Wall finished his rookie season.
But after the years have passed, I have become more appreciative of what Arenas did for the Wizards when he was here. Before he arrived, the team never had a dynamic, young player and personality of his caliber in many years. His style of play and his "zero to hero" mentality were things that people could identify with. This was because he was a second-round pick who had to fight his way up the rotation for the Golden State Warriors, where he played from 2001-2003. That relentless attitude he had toward improving his game, especially early on in his career, was something that I believe really helped make the Wizards an enjoyable team to watch during the mid 2000's.
And for the first time, I forgive Arenas for being involved in the gun incident that put the Wizards franchise in the wrong light. It's not because Wall has made the franchise relevant in the NBA. Rather, it's because he has shown remorse and appears to be open to reconciling with the Wizards in some fashion.
In December 2013, Arenas declared that he was #teamwiz4life on an Instagram post, which has been removed. He has also proudly worn a Wall jersey and trolled on his new Instagram page after every win, and he still believes in them after a loss like last Tuesday's. If I were in Arenas' shoes, I don't think I would want to associate myself with the franchise after leaving. Or maybe I would wait for Monumental Sports to reach out to me first before openly supporting the team again.
And finally, the lingering sideshows that bring GunGate back to life, for the wrong reasons, are now past us. Though the Wizards tried to distance themselves from the gun incident as much as possible, Crittenton's post-Wizards life, unfortunately, brought it up again when he was charged with killing Julian Jones, a mother of four children in a drive-by shooting on August 2011. Crittenton pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter on April 29, 2015 and was sentenced to 23 years in prison. It's an unfortunate way to close the chapter on the gun incident, at least indirectly. But I am glad that justice was served.
Most fans have forgiven Arenas and are looking forward to the future. The man himself is looking forward to supporting this very team. And the other party in the gun incident has now been given justice after going down a darker path than nearly anyone imagined.
At this point, the ball is in Monumental Sports' court to reconcile with the Wizards' former franchise star. Now is a great time for them to do just that.