- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2008

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas may not be back to the form that made him a three-time All-Star and one of the NBA’s top scorers. In fact, he hasn’t been the Agent Zero or the Hibachi for the last 19 months, having endured three surgeries on his left knee since a season-ending injury in April 2007.

But life on the sideline and yet another delayed return to action has done nothing to diminish Arenas’ popularity. He joined elite company Thursday as Madame Tussauds Washington D.C. unveiled a life-size wax likeness of the guard. The figure, wearing an official uniform, joins the wax museum’s sports area, which features legendary athletes Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Tiger Woods and Evander Holyfield.

Arenas became only the third NBA player - joining Michael Jordan (whose likeness is housed in Madame Tussauds’ Chicago location) and Shaquille O’Neal (housed in Los Angeles) - to be featured at a Madame Tussauds. Houston’s Yao Ming will become the fourth, as Madame Tussauds plans to unveil a figure of him in Beijing soon.

“This is, wow. When you’re a little kid, you don’t think about stuff like this,” said Arenas, who in the three years before his knee injuries averaged 27.7 points a game. “You see it of all the movie stars, but you don’t think about athletes. When I got the paper and they asked me, I said, ‘Of course!’ Are you crazy? They said they hadn’t done LeBron, they hadn’t done Kobe. I came here and I was ready.”

A team of Madame Tussauds studio artists flew from London earlier this year, and Arenas had to model for a two- to three-hour sitting, posing with his hands raised upward as if he had just knocked down a clutch shot and flashing his trademark smile. The artists took hundreds of measurements and photographs while also matching his skin tones to acrylic paints. They then returned to London, where a mold was designed and the wax statue was made, painted and completed.

Arenas’ likeness in highly visible places is nothing new. He was on the cover of EA Sports’ NBA Live 2008 video game. He’s in commercials for his Adidas shoe and Spalding’s Never Flat basketball, but the statue is on a whole different level, Arenas said.

“Way bigger than NBA Live,” he said. “That will fade away. When I’m old, this will still be here.”

And what made the honor even more remarkable for Arenas was the fact that he was selected despite not having been at full health for the past 19 months.

“I guess it’s just the impact of the people,” he said. “They said the people of D.C. chose for me to be the next one in, and I’m just very honored.”

The wax image will be presented at center court between the third and fourth quarters of Friday’s game at Verizon Center against Houston.

If only the 1-8 Wizards could get the real life Arenas - who last season was limited to 13 games and has yet to play this season - back on the court.

The going has been slow for Arenas, who in July signed a six-year, $111 million contract and then in September had to have a third surgery to remove debris in the same knee. Originally, Arenas thought he would miss the first one to two months of this season. But the guard said Thursday that it could be January before he returns.

The Wizards’ medical team has brought him along painstakingly slow, Arenas said, ensuring he has his full range of motion before allowing him to even begin weight training. Finally having met those requirements, Arenas will do squats and leg extensions next week.

He said it’s been frustrating watching his teammates struggle without him, but he learned from last season’s two premature comebacks that patience will pay off.

“Before games I go out there just to keep my shot maintained, work on some movement,” Arenas said. “We decided this time that I’m not going to come back limping. When I come back, it’s going to be like I never left.”

So Arenas now is targeting “just after the first of the year” for his return date, he said. The Wizards play at Boston on Jan. 2 and then host Cleveland on Jan. 4.

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