- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Gilbert Arenas is open, candid and prone to bouts of stream of consciousness, a reporter’s delight who eschews the one-game-at-a-time boilerplate that is de rigueur in the NBA.

The otherworldly dimension of Arenas goes down with back-slapping amusement in good times. Yet his uncensored proclivity can be a mixed property in troubling times.

His mini-spat with coach Eddie Jordan following the team’s 21-point loss to the Trail Blazers on Fun Street was undoubtedly fueled out of frustration, borne of his unmet responsibilities. It hardly was an indication of a deep rift between the two.

After all, it was Arenas who vigorously campaigned on Jordan’s behalf last summer, when there was an air of uncertainty about the coach’s status before he landed a three-year contract extension.

Arenas is no one’s fool, although he sometimes plays one in the locker room.

Yet Arenas knows all too well that he has emerged as one of the leading players in the NBA because of the freedom he is allowed in Jordan’s system.

Stick Arenas in a more restrictive system — think Jeff Van Gundy — and he might have turned out to be nothing more than Steve Francis, a former All-Star destined to end up less than he might have been.

The frustration of Arenas is predictable, understandable. The Wizards are playing rotten basketball in the absence of Antawn Jamison, with no one more guilty than Arenas.

Of course, Arenas and the Wizards are mad about it; sick about it.

They were so close to something special, riding a wave of good feelings, and now they see it all slipping away.

This collision of emotions is even more pronounced moments after a wretched performance.

Unfortunately for them, they do not receive much time to compartmentalize their fears and disgust.

Before you know it, the local press mob encircles the leading players of the team, and one question leads to another, with each emanating from the family of, “What’s happening to the team?”

Or: “Hey, Gilbert, you promised 50 points. You scored nine. What’s up with that?”

It is no small miracle that more meltdowns do not occur in this environment.

It is no small miracle that the NBA locker room is not replete with Howard Beale-like outbursts: “I’m mad as [bleep], and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Arenas essentially was playing the role of Beale after the Wizards-Trail Blazers game.

Not surprisingly, Arenas is starting to receive a backlash in the national press and in the comments section of blogs.

You see, he talks too much about how he has been slighted. He talks too much about how many points he is planning to score against the perpetrators of those slights. And he talks too much in general, and perhaps all this talk is hampering his performance.

There are other theories as well: All the acclaim has gone to his head. He hasn’t played well since being voted a starter in the All-Star Game. Or is it he hasn’t played well since his much-ballyhooed birthday party?

This is the typical deconstruction of an athlete who has broken from the herd.

To be honest, Arenas is what he is, what he always has been, long before anyone in Des Moines, Iowa, knew who he was.

He may be in a shooting slump, but it is not because he lacks a governor on his mouth or is becoming less driven with success.

Arenas is obligated to recognize the contradictions and imperfections of the national press. It absolutely abhors the one-game-at-a-time types, for instance.

Yet when an athlete comes along saying he plans to take it two games at a time, the national press is liable to go in a criticism-filled frenzy.

Don’t try to understand this phenomenon. That is just the way it is.

As Bob Knight likes to say, members of the national press are the perfect people, along with being smug hypocrites.

Joe Gibbs issues weekly bromides to the team’s fans, which puts everyone to sleep.

But have a coach say what really is on his mind — Buddy Ryan was fairly special in this regard back in the day — and the national press will slap the person silly.

Arenas has been advised by both Jordan and Jamison to take a chill pill, without compromising the essence of who he is.

Here is the thing with Arenas: He says all kinds of stuff and maybe means a tiny fraction of it, if that.

He is a serial practical joker who is forever relaying an anecdote that does not quite pass the veracity test.

To hear Arenas tell it, all too many of his teammates need to take out bank loans to satisfy their gambling debts with him.

This prompts a roll of the eyes and a shake of the head from the so-called indebted parties.

His material sometimes gets old, but that is not entirely on him.

If he wears No. 0 on his jersey as a reminder of the number of minutes he was supposed to receive at Arizona, it is not his fault that a zillion reporters feel compelled to insert this decaying tidbit in their dispatches.

Arenas mentioned sleeping in an oxygen tank as part of his conditioning at the start of the season. That revelation has taken on a life of its own, as did his vow to score 50 points on Nate McMillan and the Trail Blazers.

The Internet only has heightened the dissemination of information.

Arenas is a favorite of bloggers, from Dan Steinberg’s popular D.C. Sports Bog to the WizzNutzz.

No innocuous development is left unexplored, including Arenas’ recent shootout with DeShawn Stevenson, as made available on YouTube.com.

We live in a brave new information world of glut and haste, all available at the touch of a computer keyboard.

If Arenas’ act is wearing thin, it is only because the 24/7 media marketplace often reduces its favorite subjects to parody form.

Honk if you are the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby girl.

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