He was a media darling. Someone even the most cynical writers in America couldn’t help but root for. He was different. He was a breath of fresh air. Behind the natural athletic ability there was a compelling story of hard work and sacrifice that made him a fan favorite, not just locally, but throughout the country.
Now he’s no different than the rest of ‘em. The same people who got a kick out of his style, the ones who called him good for the game, are saying he’s a thug. Now he’s just another rich, coddled superstar who thinks he can get away with anything because of who he is.
No, not Tiger.
Gilbert Arenas’ fall from grace is different from Tiger Woods’ because it has been gradual, not all of a sudden. But other athletes should be paying a lot closer attention to what happens with Arenas because his situation is a lot more likely to happen to them. And it has nothing to do with guns in the locker room either.
It’s about bad contracts, and there are plenty out there in every major sport.
The decline of Arenas began long before he ever thought about bringing his guns to work to either A) hide from his children, B) play a joke on teammate Javaris Crittenton, C) intimidate Crittenton, or D) some combination of the three. It started as soon as he signed a six year, $111 million contract with the Washington Wizards in the summer of 2008. The deal was heavily criticized because of his persistent injury problems, which cost him the end of the 2006/07 season, virtually all of the following season, and most of his first year with the new contract.
It didn’t help that shortly after Arenas signed, our country began to feel the wrath of a financial meltdown that is still hurting us today. Suddenly just being the most loved athlete in the blogosphere wasn’t enough for the Wizards. Arenas was quickly labeled as having one of the worst contracts in the league, with many writers comparing it to the similarly disastrous deal the team gave Juwan Howard a little over a decade ago.
So when the team officials learned that Arenas stored unloaded guns in his locker at the Verizon Center, they saw this as the perfect opportunity to get out of a contract that would haunt them for the next five years.
That’s the part of the story that has been underreported. But it’s also the most relevant to all athletes who have signed huge contracts and are either not producing or playing for a franchise that happens to be losing money. The Wizards immediately reported Arenas’ indiscretions to the league not because they thought it was the right thing to do, but because they want to be able to invoke the morality clause which appears in all NBA contracts. Do you think this ever makes the news if the Wizards were in first place and Arenas was the league’s leading scorer?
How do you think rumors of a card game gone awry leaked anyway? It was no mistake that the New York Post had the most scandalous --and incorrect-- version of the story, claiming that Arenas and Crittenton actually drew guns on each other. The Wizards knew the Post would have no problem running a story with no facts behind it.
They also knew there was no way the public would side with Arenas if they tried to void his contract. Gilbert Arenas with three guns in the locker room in Washington D.C. might sound more like some sports version of Clue, but the people of Washington know guns are no game. That’s why the region has the strictest gun laws in the country.
Arenas is far from innocent here. But it’s also wrong to label him a typical NBA thug. The truth is, he’s guilty mainly of being an idiot, which some might argue is enough to cancel the remainder of his contact. I would disagree, but I guarantee this won’t be the last time you hear about a team attempting to invoke the morality clause.
If the Wizards are allowed the sever ties with Arenas, you can bet that every team in sports will try to do the same with their problematic players.
Just the rich ones, of course.