Erstwhile NBA combo guard Gilbert Arenas, once the internet's favorite basketball player, had about as unceremonious an exit from the league as a three-time All-Star can have. After several lackluster years following his controversial gun charges while a member of the Washington Wizards, Arenas received no interest this offseason after a short, unimpressive stint with the Memphis Grizzlies last spring. So, like many players, he went to China, where fans still remember him fondly and remain willing to welcome him as a hero.
Due to injury, Arenas played only 15 of 32 games for the Shanghai Sharks in the China Basketball Association's recently completed regular season. Yet he has still made an important impact as a cultural figure. In a new interview with Karan Madhok for SLAM China, Arenas discusses his experience:
SLAM: But it does seem like the joy in your game is back. Being back on the court, back with teammates…
GA: You know, that’s all basketball is. If someone loves something, and you take it away, it’s like what does he do now? What does someone do? That’s what happened with me in the last couple of years in the NBA when I went to Orlando, and then I got benched. And I was in Memphis and I wasn’t playing. It was just like, Why do I wanna keep doing this? So then when I got the chance to come to China to play…OK! As long as I get to play. [...]
SLAM: So do you have long term plans in China? What do you see for yourself in the future here?
GA: 32 games a year. Maximum 36 minutes. That’s all I need at this point in my career. So as long as China teams want me, I’ll be here.
SLAM: Do you have any plans or hopes to tryout with the NBA again?
GA: Nah! [Shakes head vehemently] Because after this season I can enjoy my family. You know my kids are getting older. Being in the NBA, you don’t really get to enjoy your family life because you’re always on the road, you’re always gone. So, no. After this season will be the first time I’ll get to be with my kids for a long period of time.
There's a lot more in the full interview, including how Gilbert passes the time in China — he buys DVDs, apparently from a store and not bootleg markets — and how he negotiates the language barrier with teammates. But, for me, the most interesting aspect of the chat is apparent in the bits quoted above.
Arenas's reputation took a turn for the worse for some good reasons, including that he brought a gun into the locker room and subsequently turned into a markedly less effective player. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be totally surprising to hear that he harbored resentment over the way his NBA career ended. Conventional wisdom states that the gun incident was the last straw after many immature actions, but the fact is that Arenas was considered a lovable rascal for many years. A serious mistake has cast his personality as something more sinister. And while it's likely that teams wouldn't have cared if Arenas had continued to be a good player, it's not as if teams have held onto players well past their point of usefulness for more emotional reasons.
Yet, if this interview is an accurate indication, Arenas seems pretty zen about how things worked out. He's enjoying his new experiences in a basketball-obsessed country, valuing the time he gets to spend with his family, and generally looking on the bright side. It would be easy to let anger overwhelm everything else, but he's trying to find a silver lining. That's a noble way to handle this turn of events. Maybe, with time, more people will be able to take the same sunny approach to his NBA career.