Ease Up On Agent Zero

January 15, 2010 | Thyrl Nelson

Ironically, the thing that earned Gilbert Arenas millions of dollars, his “Agent Zero” moniker and the adoration of NBA fans everywhere may wind up being his undoing as well. Fans are slowly beginning to realize what opponents of Arenas conceded a long time ago, that Agent Zero can be difficult, at times downright impossible to defend. And somewhere, Plaxico Burress has to be wondering how he became one of the few NFL free agents in recent history to avoid the reach of Dan Snyder and the Redskins. After what we’ve seen unfold over the last few weeks in Washington, it’s conceivable that if Burress had been a Redskin, he’s probably have one less ring, but maybe 2 less bracelets too.

Somewhere, deep down in the recesses of his soul, in the places that no one ever gets to hear about, David Stern is probably thanking his lucky stars for Agent Zero and his lack of judgment.   After all, which NBA storyline has you most captivated this season? Is it the Celtics quest to get some semblance of a healthy team to the playoffs, the Shaq and LeBron experiment in Cleveland, the eight starting point guards under 30 that are establishing the next generation of superstars, the growing trade market, the improbable rise of the Suns? Sadly, the likely answer is the Gilbert Arenas saga.


But if not for Arenas, would we be likely to be paying attention to any of the aforementioned anyway? Doubtful.


Obviously, on the surface at least, Arenas’ actions are indefensible. But as more and more of the story begins to trickle out, it’s beginning to seem like the Wizards and the league have positioned Arenas directly into the crosshairs, to bear the brunt of the responsibility for a situation that seems to have plenty of culpability to spread around.


First were the initial reports, simply that police were investigating Arenas and his possession of guns at the Verizon Center. As news, this failed to even register on the radar, as Arenas quickly explained that he felt the need to get them out of his home, and also that Wizards security had been aware of their presence. Par for the course in the NBA these days I suppose, and reasonably explained at that. There didn’t seem much reason for concern, other than the fact that the guns were apparently unregistered, and that this isn’t Gilbert’s first firearm related transgression.


As the story began to develop though, a number of new questions began to arise, and a lot of them have still yet to be answered. The subsequent report that Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton had “drawn guns on each other” in the Wizards locker room, suddenly made the investigation at least, make sense. The fact that as the story moved forward, Arenas’ was seemingly the only one being scrutinized had to be puzzling to most, but that was all of the news that the team, the league or even the police were giving us. So we were left to wonder, or draw or own conclusions about what Crittenton’s involvement was, or whether the locker room incident took place before or after Wizards security was notified about the guns being there in the first place.


Purists, real die hard purists I’m talking about here, were also left at this point to contemplate whether or not an incident such as this supercedes what we’ve all come to accept as the unwritten rules of the locker room. In-house business after all, should stay in house, and if forced to bet, I’d have to guess that this wasn’t the first time that a gun or guns were drawn in an NBA, NFL or MLB locker room. It was however, the first that we had heard about. You have to wonder what would have happened if it were Shaq and LeBron holding one another at gunpoint, or Jordan and Pippen back in the day. My guess is that if that did happen, we’d never likely find out about it. What’s more, I’d bet that if Arenas had been living up to the $111 million contract that he signed before last season, we probably never would have heard about this one either.


Since Arenas was positioned firmly out in front of this thing, and since he was the only one speaking from the heart about it too, we flocked to his Twitter feed, for updates on the situation, and Arenas didn’t disappoint. In true Arenas fashion, he shot misguidedly from the hip, and tried to put his usual light-hearted spin on things. We probably shouldn’t have expected anything else from Arenas. In fact, if the NBA was expecting anything else from Arenas they were misguided at best, not taking greater steps to help Gilbert help himself in the days following the news breaking was either downright stupid by the league, or a calculated decision to allow Arenas to be his own undoing.


So now, finally, we think we have the real story, or most of it at least. And I, for one, am finding myself empathizing with Arenas. For those still catching up, the latest reports from various media sources have Arenas and Crittenton arguing over a gambling debt from a team flight. When Arenas fails to pay up, Crittenton threatens to shoot him in his recently repaired knee. Arenas, in a move that should surprise no one, laid out 4 empty guns for Crittenton, and advised (jokingly you’d assume) him to pick one. The story continues that Crittenton instead pulled out his own weapon, chambered a round and brandished it at Arenas.


If that’s the case, then it would seem that Crittenton would deserve the bulk of the responsibility for the incident. All Arenas did, technically, according to the story, was to show 4 unloaded guns to a teammate, albeit at the worst possible time. Crittenton on the other hand actively threatened Arenas, and as yet has seen little if any repercussions. Whether the guns were already at the arena before the incident, or were actually brought in as a response to Crittenton’s threat, whether or not security was notified before or after the incident about the fact that the guns were present, and surely a number of other questions still remain unanswered, at least publicly so far, at the heart of this matter, but so far everything still seems to center around Arenas.


So what is the league’s real perspective on this? Obviously it’s an unfortunate blemish on the image of the game, but it may have come at the best possible time for the league. After all, despite all of the potentially compelling storylines that the NBA has to offer this year, it’s just too early for anyone outside of the fanatics to be truly interested yet. We just got through college football, we’re still digesting the NFL Playoffs, acquainting ourselves with the new landscape of college basketball, and even preparing for the Winter Olympics. It’s not even the All-Star break in the NBA, and the trade deadline is likely to see as much movement as any NBA season in recent memory. It’s simply too early to get invested in the NBA just yet.


So if there were one other NBA related story that would have been likely to grab our attention at this early stage in the game, it probably would have been the Tim Donaghy book tour. From a league perspective, the Arenas incident, while unfortunate, provides the league and the commissioner an opportunity to look like the keepers of the purity of the game, rather than the game fixing, Mafioso-like machine that Donaghy is making them out to be, and have stolen the headlines from him in the process. The fact that gambling is at the heart of this matter too, is little more than an inconvenient truth that continues to be overlooked as long as Agent Zero continues to do his part in inviting the attention and criticism, that we’re all to anxious to shower him with, while the league as a whole gets off Scott-free.


From the Wizards perspective, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which this could have been vastly different too. Let’s assume that this incident came to the attention of team management before it came to the attention of the authorities, a reasonable assumption, but a broad one no doubt. If the Wizards had been sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, and Arenas was playing 42 minutes a night and earning every penny of that $111 million (if that’s even possible), or even easier to envision, if this had been Kobe and Ron Artest, do you think the team would have been so quick to bring in outside authorities? Somehow, as dramatic as this whole incident seems to be, I have to believe that if it made sense for the Wizards to do so, it could have been worked out in-house.


Surely the next step for the Wizards is to try and void Arenas’ contract, and free themselves from the burden of a horrible investment that looks like an anvil they’ll be forced to drag forward otherwise. The more this story continues to develop, the more it appears that was the plan all along.