- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

The recent on-court performances by Gilbert Arenas have been off the hook. His cell phone, however, remains unnervingly silent.

Arenas is waiting patiently for those calls. The calls that say, “Hey, come do a commercial for us.” The calls that say, “Help sell my product.” The calls that say, “You’re just as hot as LeBron James, as Dwyane Wade, as Shaquille O’Neal.”

The Washington Wizards star has a couple of nice endorsement deals, of course. There is a big one with Adidas and another with Glaceau, the maker of vitaminwater.

Still, Arenas hasn’t busted through to the upper tier of marketable players in the NBA despite the dazzling performances, the MVP-caliber numbers and the long-range buzzer-beaters that now are part of his nightly routine.

“Every player would like some endorsements and to do some things other than basketball,” Arenas said. “I’m just waiting for some opportunities. When someone calls my name, I’ll be ready to go.”

It does seem a little bit off.

Arenas highlights appear on “SportsCenter” nearly every night. He’s personable, good-looking, likeable. He is a prolific scorer, a compelling performer. His team is winning, and there is a rare excitement in Washington for a franchise long associated with losing.

Arenas ranks second in the league in scoring behind Carmelo Anthony, the Denver Nuggets forward who has played in about half as many games. He scored 60 points against the Los Angeles Lakers last month and topped 50 on two other occasions in the past five weeks.

Arenas has made a specialty of making game-winning baskets and hitting field goals from far beyond the 3-point line. He ranks among the league leaders in minutes, steals, assists and overall efficiency and has led the Wizards to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Stats aside, Arenas is no marketing dope. He refers to his ascendance this season as “The Takeover,” a phrase that has caught on nicely with fans. He calls himself “Agent Zero,” a reference to his jersey number, and “Hibachi,” nicknames that have been picked up by fans and “SportsCenter” anchors, as well.

His recent 25th birthday bash, which featured rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs as host, garnered national headlines. And he’s done subtle yet noticeable things, such as changing from one pair of his “Gil Zero” Adidas shoes to another in midgame. He’s also in the process of starting his own marketing agency.

“He wants to be in the same boat as the Dwyane Wades, the LeBrons and the Carmelos,” said Paisley Benaza, Arenas’ personal marketing consultant. “He takes his own risks, and he’s really seen what can happen when you do stuff like that, but it’s frustrating him to wonder why companies don’t partner with him. If he doesn’t break through now, I’m not sure what else it would take.”

What else it would take, sports agents and marketing experts say, is the one thing Arenas always seems to get when he goes up for a game-winning three: separation.

“If Gilbert continues to score 50 points and get on ‘SportsCenter’ and if the Wizards can make some sort of playoff run, he’ll start getting calls,” said Scott Sanford, senior client director at Davie Brown Talent, a firm that helps match companies with celebrity endorsers. “And he will eventually, but he may not get into that top five without doing something that completely separates him.”

A recent report from Davie Brown highlighting the league’s most marketable players makes no mention of Arenas at all. And a look at Arenas’ body of work does show some holes. He has no MVP awards, just two All-Star appearances and one playoff series win. He has never won a scoring title, has never set an NBA record and has never made an Olympic team.

Story Continues →