- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

The front office of the Wizards does not need to be pushing a 10-game ticket plan that utilizes Shaquille O’Neal as a lure.

In the marketing world of the Wizards, if you buy the plan, you are granted an 11th game featuring Shaq and the Heat at no extra cost.

This is too remindful of the bad, old days, when the team’s front office had no choice but to push the opposition’s leading players. That is hardly the case today.

Shaq is on the downside of a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. He no longer is an everyday player, bedeviled as he is by various lower-limb injuries, as is the case now. You cannot assume he even will be on the floor in the Heat’s two trips to Tony Cheng’s neighborhood this season.

Besides, the Wizards have a player who is every bit worth the price of admission in Gilbert Arenas. He is on his way up the superstardom ladder, and where he taps out is anyone’s guess.

I would take the 23-year-old Arenas over any of the youngish guards in the NBA at this point, and that includes Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Arenas and Wade are comparable players, the same age, each able to get to the basket and finish because of their strength. Arenas, though, just might be the quickest player in the NBA, and that includes Allen Iverson, who, at 30, is seven years older than Arenas. Wade also benefits from having Shaq as a teammate, which is no small benefit.

How many more scoring opportunities to the basket would Arenas have if he were dumping the ball to Shaq instead of Brendan Haywood, and nothing against Haywood?

Bryant is a vastly superior defender than Arenas, but he is hardly a good teammate, and he lacks warmth, which no doubt has hurt his relationship with coaches, players and fans alike over the years. And Bryant is the master of the bad shot.

James, wondrous talent and all, is seeking to progress to where Arenas is in terms of leading a team into the playoffs. Not that he won’t do it. He just has not done it yet.

In Arenas, you sense his desire to be the perfect teammate. You sense his desire to please and achieve at the same time. He could take his defender off the dribble each time down the court if he so desired. There is no defender who can hang with him. Forget that. It is a joke.

Yet Arenas exercises this power judiciously, for he knows no team can win with one player dominating the offense.

Arenas is still apt to have the occasional blackout, which goes with his youth. But he is big enough to admit it afterward. He is big enough to say he was a fool momentarily and leave it at that, which is what you do. We all have been fools at one time or another, let’s be honest.

Hard as it is to accept, Arenas has not received the respect of the referees in the first three games of the season, and yet he has managed to play through it. The opposition clubs him with baseball bats and other instruments of destruction, and the referees pretend not to see it, or whatever. It is ridiculous.

Arenas is bound to be unveiled in a national advertising campaign eventually. He is too good, both on the court and off, to go unnoticed too much longer. He is not about street credibility. He is about good people.

He removes his jersey at the end of each game and tosses it into the crowd, as a token of appreciation.

He intuitively recognizes that playing in the NBA is a wonderful gig, and it is as if he wakes up each morning with a smile. And the only circumstance that removes the joy is a referee being blind on him.

So forget Shaq, however lovable he is.

Arenas is moving to the fore of the NBA, and that, along with a winning team, should be enticing enough to Washington.

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