- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

Gilbert Arenas established no shooting rhythm in Game 5 at United Center, none at all, and yet he had the fortitude, icy manner and calm to sink a 14-footer over the outstretched hands of Kirk Hinrich and Tyson Chandler as the final horn sounded.

That is greatness, as it is defined in the NBA. That is an All-Star player aspiring to be among the elite.

The NBA is stuffed with players, including a good number of All-Stars, who would not have wanted to be in that position near the end of a game. And they definitely would not have wanted to be in that position after going 4-for-13 shooting up to that point, as was the case with Arenas.

Chris Webber, to cite an old but familiar face, never wanted to be that guy at the end of a game, even before he became a 6-foot-10, one-legged shooting guard. If there were a Basketball Hall of Fame for players who could accumulate a 20-10 in the first three quarters of a game, Webber would be a first-ballot inductee.

It takes a special sort of psyche to absorb a poor shooting performance and stare down 22,250 spectators in ear-splitting mode, with the pivotal game of the series hanging in the balance.

Arenas is hardly a fashionable name of the NBA yet. He is 23 years old, barely into his NBA career and landed in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood with the seemingly requisite questions about the quality of his head.

Arenas is sensitive to criticism, whether within the team or outside it. He has a tendency to be overly concerned about the quality of officiating. He also has lost control of his emotions on occasion.

But his progress in all areas of basketball — the mental as well as the physical — has been genuine this season. The only reason the stunning maturation of Arenas has not received more play nationally is because of the previously woebegone status of the Wizards.

The ascendancy of Arenas is no secret to local members of the media. You only have to watch him play over a stretch of games to know he is pursuing the rarefied air of the NBA. The Bulls have seen enough of him after five games.

From Anthony Hyde, manager of publications with the Bulls, came the following e-mail yesterday: “Arenas is not the truth. He is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Arenas has enough eccentricities to fill a profile, from walking on his heels from the locker room to arriving on the floor last while fiddling with his shorts just before tip-off. His shoot-a-thons at 1 in the morning on Fun Street are the stuff of legend, assuming Arenas eventually is perceived to be on a level with Allen Iverson.

That poses an amusing contrast, for Iverson, courtesy of ESPN, is forever the player, asking, “Practice? What’s that?”

Arenas is the player who has to be kicked out of the gym and told to go home and get some rest.

Arenas seemingly has come to understand that it is not merely God-given ability and work ethic that arranges the pecking order of the NBA. You have to be mentally tough as well. You have to dig deep inside and somehow inure yourself to the punches in the gut that inevitably come in the NBA.

What else would you call the three 3-pointers of Jannero Pargo in the waning seconds but a punch in the gut that was threatening to suck the wind out of the Wizards?

How many players hold up to that? An NBA team is sometimes fortunate to have one player who can roll with it. The Wizards possibly have three in Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison.

Arenas and the Wizards can close out the franchise’s first playoff series victory since 1982 in Game 6 tonight. They would be wise not to depend on the work of the home crowd.

A victory by Arenas and the Wizards raises their national profile further and accelerates their growth.

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