- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A 2001 Monte Carlo sits in the garage of Gilbert Arenas’ upscale digs in Great Falls. Arenas does not need the vehicle. He never drives it. It just sits in his garage collecting dust, although he has re-painted it, equipped it with a larger engine and added new upholstery and rims.

Darnell McCondichie, Arenas’ childhood buddy, has given the thumbs-up sign to the changes.

“It does look better than when I had it,” he says.

The vehicle was McCondichie’s pride and joy until he lost it to Arenas in a game of Halo 2 on Xbox in Los Angeles last summer.

Arenas pretended to be a novice at the video game until he and McCondichie agreed to bet their respective vehicles on it: a Cadillac Escalade vs. the Monte Carlo, straight-up.

“He beat me real bad,” McCondichie says. “It wasn’t even close.”

Arenas had his newly secured possession shipped to the District and has been thoughtful enough to send photographs of it to his buddy this year. Or perhaps those photographs are the basketball equivalent of a taunt.

“Darnell has a year-long bus pass,” Arenas says with a proud grin.

That is not really true, of course.

McCondichie used public transportation for a spell before purchasing a 2005 Yukon.

“He even offered to lend the Monte Carlo back to me to help me out,” McCondichie says. “But I had too much pride for that. He is just being retarded.”

This is the off-beat world of Arenas away from the court.

He is a likable, genuine fellow who has remained true to his modest beginnings, even as the NBA exploits of the two-time All-Star guard of the Washington Wizards have proceeded at an accelerated rate.

He has eschewed the usual trappings of NBA stardom. He wears no bling-bling, has no omnipresent tattoos and lacks the requisite entourage. He lives alone in his 10-bedroom, 10-bathroom estate, far enough removed from the urban core.

“I have to be out of the city,” Arenas says. “I need the space.”

That is a reflection of his suburban-like upbringing in Van Nuys, Calif., in the San Fernando Valley, home of the ditzy Valley girls made famous by Hollywood in the 1980s.

Arenas may be from Los Angeles, as the sprawling city is geographically defined, but his sensibility comes from the San Fernando Valley of broad thoroughfares and strip malls.

It is pointed out to Arenas that requiring his buddy to make good on a bet seems harsh, especially since he duped him and hardly needs the vehicle. He is in the third year of a six-year contract worth $64 million and could own a fleet of four-wheel toys if he so desired.

“He would have taken my Escalade, I know that,” Arenas says.

And there is a caveat in all this, as there often is with Arenas.

The two pals are planning a bowl-off this summer, with the Monte Carlo representing Arenas’ ante. Arenas has agreed to a bowl-off knowing McCondichie is a considerably stronger bowler than him.

“I intimidate him in bowling,” McCondichie says. “He is usually in the 160 range. I am in the 190-215 range. The Monte Carlo is coming back to Los Angeles.”

That is how it is with the two, whose friendship extends back to their youth sports days.

They shared seats at the end of the bench on a team in fifth grade coached by Arenas Sr. and McCondichie’s mother, Irene.

“We were awful,” McCondichie says. “We just sat on the bench cracking jokes about the players on the floor. Here is the thing with Gilbert: He always was one of the worst guys on the team back then, in fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade and eighth.

“And then, in the summer between ninth and 10th grades, he just shot up. All of a sudden, he was quicker than everyone else, stronger, faster. My family moved out of the Valley about then, and I can remember hearing about some guy named Gilbert Arenas doing this or Gilbert Arenas doing that, and I remember thinking, ‘That can’t be the same guy. He [is awful].’ I’d call him every so often — it was long distance. He played at Grant in the Valley, and one time he scored like 50 points against Crenshaw, and nobody from the Valley does that to Crenshaw. It was unreal.”

Washington knows the rest of the story. Arenas landed a scholarship to Arizona, where he was not expected to play, and thus the legend of the No. 0 on his jersey — representing zero minutes — was born.

In his first season with the Golden State Warriors, who selected him in the second round of the 2001 NBA Draft with the 31st pick overall, Arenas was not earmarked for stardom. He languished on the bench much of the season and even questioned his place in the NBA.

“I was not sure then,” Arenas says. “It was all new, and I was sitting.”

In typical Arenas fashion, he signed up to play in a recreation basketball league in his rookie season.

“I figured I had to get better somehow because I was not getting enough work with the team,” he says.

That led to the education of his recreation league opponents.

“They figured I was the worst player on the Warriors,” he says, “so they weren’t really expecting me to be all that much.”

That merely showed their naivety about the quality of NBA athletes.

“I was tearing it up,” Arenas says, “and they’re like, ‘Man, you must really have to be something to be in the NBA because we know you aren’t any good.’ That was fun.”

It was not long before word of Arenas’ deeds in the recreation basketball league reached the Warriors.

And, predictably, the reaction of the Warriors’ coaching staff and front office was: Huh? You’re what? Uh, Gilbert, can we talk for a second?

And so ended Arenas’ abbreviated stint as a recreation league star.

Yet Arenas’ burning passion to excel was not lost on Chris Mullin, a special assistant with the Warriors then and, like Arenas, a gym rat in his playing days.

Arenas took as a compliment Mullin’s observation that he is one of the few NBA players who would play the game for nothing.

And Arenas makes it clear he doesn’t plan to break the bank of the Wizards on his next contract negotiations.

“I wouldn’t want to be on a team where a big contract prevents the front office from signing other good players,” Arenas says.

And Washington is where he wants to spend the rest of his NBA career. Arenas already has looked up to the rafters of Abe Pollin’s house on Fun Street and noticed the retired jerseys of Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Gus Johnson. He has wondered what it would take to get No. 0 up there in the future. He is well on his way at 24 years old.

In only three seasons with the Wizards, Arenas has become the franchise’s all-time leading 3-point shooter. He is averaging 40.6 minutes a game, second in franchise history to Walt Bellamy’s 41.6.

He has scored 5,401 points in 213 games with the Wizards. Elvin Hayes, the franchise’s all-time points leader, scored 15,551 points in 731 games. So in less than 30 percent of the games Hayes played, Arenas is more than one-third the way to becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

Consider as well: Arenas, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Allen Iverson became the first NBA foursome each to have at least 10 games with 40-plus points since Bellamy, Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1961-62 season.

Arenas, Bryant, James and Iverson also are bidding to become the first four players to average at least 29.0 points since Richie Guerin, Oscar Robertson, Baylor, Bellamy, Chamberlain, Pettit and West achieved the mark in the 1961-62 season.

That is fairly impressive company for a player who initially was left out of the All-Star Game in February by a vote of the Eastern Conference coaches before commissioner David Stern selected Arenas to replace the injured Jermaine O’Neal.

His numbers this season: 29.3 points, 6.1 assists and 1.99 steals.

That puts him fourth in scoring, fourth in steals and 18th in assists in the NBA going into last night’s games.

Arenas also is second in 3-pointers made, third in free throws made and third in minutes in the NBA.

His is, arguably, having the most dominant season by a perimeter player in the 45-year history of the franchise, unrivaled by Earl Monroe, Archie Clark and Phil Chenier. His scoring average is second only to Bellamy’s 31.6 average in the 1961-1962 season, when the franchise was in its inaugural NBA season and playing in Chicago with the nickname Packers.

All this comes from a player who could not escape the bench of a team his father was coaching.

“It is real weird sometimes to see him on television,” McCondichie says. “If you don’t follow the NBA, you don’t really know who he is. He comes out to Los Angeles in the summer, and few people ever recognize him. We’ll be messing around at my place, and my girlfriend — she does not follow the NBA at all — will be like, ‘Are you sure he plays in the NBA?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ He is just a regular guy, down to earth.”

The relative anonymity of Arenas soon could change if he and Adidas reach an accord. Arenas has a commercial in mind. Why, he is willing to produce, direct and pay for it.

He has a script that he thinks celebrates the Adidas slogan: “Impossible is Nothing.”

In it, he removes his shoes after a game, just as he does his jersey, and throws them into the stands. There is a mad scramble. Then there is a dash with the coveted souvenir in hand. And then there is a youth in a wheelchair who grabs the precious prize from the hands of the fleeing person.

Just then, superimposed on the television screen, comes the Adidas slogan: “Impossible is Nothing.”

Arenas thinks his creative vision has potential.

“What do you think?” he says.

Why not?

To hear Arenas tell it, he has plenty of extra cash to fund the commercial from his poker winnings this season. He allows himself $5,000 in living expenses each month. He says he has not used a penny of his allowance all season, instead using his $93-a-day per diem when the team is on the road to stake his lucrative poker forays.

He claims to have won $17,000 off ex-teammate Larry Hughes and $5,000 from Cavaliers forward Drew Gooden. He claims he is into one of his teammates for $57,000. He does not have the heart to give up his name.

“We’ve had 13 poker tournaments, and I’ve won 10 of them,” he says.

Otherwise, he is mostly conservative with his money. He purchased his home for $2.7 million after signing with the Wizards in 2003, with its assessed value exceeding $4 million today, and he owns a condominium in both Las Vegas and South Beach, Fla.

Mostly, this accidental superstar just wants to be inside a gymnasium, perfecting his basketball skills.

Whenever McCondichie visits Arenas in the summer, he knows the drill.

They might hit the nightspots Pearl or H20, but before too long in the night, Arenas will feel the pull of the game and motion to his buddy that it is time to slip past the arena to get in a workout.

There remains a considerable body of basketball work to be completed, and Arenas aspires to reach it all.

However it goes down, it won’t be because of a lack of effort on his part.

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