Zero to hero
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson () - July 6, 2008 - 12:00am

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas isn’t your ordinary NBA star. He’s totally out of the box, a unique baller whose refreshing attitude stands out in an era of sports greed and irreverent behavior.

Arenas, 26, outdid himself the other day by volunteering to take less than what the Wizards offered in a contract renewal for the franchise to stay under the luxury tax limit and allow more money to sign free agents.

The ultimate sacrifice means Arenas turned away $16 Million in the next six years. Some players will negotiate to the death for the chance to bankroll that kind of cash. Not Arenas who settled for $111 Million instead of $127 Million he could’ve gotten under league rules.

Arenas explained he didn’t want to be a financial burden to the Wizards and stymie plans to rebuild their roster. Washington hasn’t been able to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs the last three seasons and badly needs shoring up to be a championship contender.

“You see players take max deals and they financially bind their teams,” said Arenas, quoted by the Washington Times. “I don’t wanna be one of those players and three years down the road, your team is strapped and can’t do anything about it.”

Arenas put it in perspective when he said, “I’m a franchise player and sometimes, franchise players need to make franchise decisions – your whole city is depending on you, wondering if you’re going to make the right decision.”

Arenas decided on taking less money without an agent during a tour of China just the other day, making the deal even more remarkable.

* * *

Yesterday, Arenas arrived here to begin a four-day visit where he will launch his new signature Adidas shoe, visit Adidas stores, meet fans and preside in the turnover of a basketball court to an Adidas-adopted Gawad Kalinga community in Quezon City. He’ll be a special guest in the UAAP opening at the Big Dome this afternoon.

Believe it or not, Arenas has eight GilZero models, namely, the Black President (referring to his campaign to prove himself worthy of playing in the All-Star Game and his personal commitment to support US candidate Barack Obama), Vote for Gilbert, Channel Zero, NBA Live 2008, Hibachi (like the grill, he sizzles on the court), Customize, I Love L. A. (where he is from) and Agent Zero.

In Adidas terms, the shoes correspond to the eight core values of the game – confidence, commitment, passion, respect, inspire, sacrifice, trust and innovative which promote the essence of “brotherhood.”

Arenas is one of six Adidas endorsers who comprise the “brotherhood.” The others are Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups, Dwight Howard and Tracy McGrady.

This past season, Arenas struggled because of a left knee injury. He played in Washington’s first eight games then underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee before returning to suit up as a sixth man in five of the Wizards’ last eight contests entering the playoffs.

Arenas scored 24 points in 27 minutes off the bench before fouling out in the Wizards’ first playoff game against Cleveland. Washington coach Eddie Jordan brought Arenas back to the starting lineup in Game 3 of the playoffs and although he limped off the floor with only two points in 10 minutes, the Wizards won, 108-72. Arenas started again in Game 4, scoring 10 points, but Washington lost a close three-point decision. Nursing a pinched nerve in his left knee, Arenas sat out the Wizards’ last two playoff games as the Cavaliers closed out the series in six.

It wasn’t exactly the way Arenas wanted the season to end but the Wizards can build on the experience to bounce back. With Arenas and Antawn Jamison signing contract renewals, the Wizards are expected to regroup for another run at the title.

* * *

Washington recently drafted 7-foot, 240-pound, 20-year-old JaVale McGee of the University of Nevada at Reno in the first round and he’s just what the doctor ordered for the Wizards who could use a more potent frontcourt presence. McGee’s mother Pamela once played in the WNBA and father George Montgomery saw collegiate action at Illinois.

By the way, Arenas has been actively involved in socially oriented projects for years. He partnered with Magic Johnson in organizing a basketball tournament to benefit six non-profit groups that serve the homeless, serves as spokesman for the NBA Fit program to raise awareness of physical fitness and nutrition to fight childhood obesity, donated $100 for every point he scored at home in 2006-07 to a different Washington D. C area school each game, hosted a Christmas show for underprivileged children, created the Zero to Hero Foundation to promote the safety and well-being of homeless children through foster care, adoption and child-care services, provided relief for Hurricane Katrina victims and participated in several other social activities.

Arenas wears No. 0 as a remembrance of when he was told by critics in high school he

  would play no minutes in college at Arizona. From zero to hero has become Arenas’ theme. He has scored 60 points in an NBA game, is one of only two players in Washington franchise history to compile at least 2,000 points in three straight seasons, has played in three All-Star Games, was voted the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2003, was named the MVP in the Rookies-Sophomores Games during the 2003 All-Star Weekend and has made a habit of draining clutch buzzer-beaters to win games. In 2006-07, Arenas averaged 28.4 points to rank third in NBA scoring behind Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

The 6-4 Arenas has come a long way. He was raised by his father who has roots in Cuba as his mother, a drug addict, abandoned him as a child. Now, Arenas is a role model in the NBA, a star athlete whose career mirrors the transformation of an underdog to a genuine hero.

ADIDAS ARENAS PLACE STATE WASHINGTON WIZARDS
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