- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

HOUSTON — No doubt about it: Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas is still a forgotten man here at the 2006 All-Star Game.

Of the 24 players participating in today’s game, Arenas’ bio and accompanying picture are the only noticeable absences in the official media guide.

Further proof of the league’s fourth-leading scorer being overlooked appeared on the NBA’s Web site yesterday. A link that was supposed to direct browsers to Arenas’ comments instead took them to quotes from Detroit guard Chauncey Billups. The league corrected the error late Saturday.

Arenas, according to three sources, was one vote shy of being named to the team by the Eastern Conferences coaches. Commissioner David Stern put Arenas on the team to replace the injured Jermaine O’Neal.

“I’m just happy I made it,” Arenas said. “You have a lot of talented guards in the East, so someone’s going to get left out every year. I’m just happy to be there this year.”

Although Arenas has said he is simply honored to be on the team for the second consecutive season, privately Arenas is hurt that some coaches didn’t think he deserved to be here.

Some of the league’s All-Stars were surprised Arenas needed to be an injury replacement to make the team.

“You know, the guy is averaging 28 points a game,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. “You have to wonder what some of them were looking at when they cast their vote. I’m sure that it gets political, but the good news is that he’s on the team. This is where he belongs.”

Only two players — World B. Free (1979) and Dick Barnett (1966) — have averaged more than 28 points and failed to make the All-Star Game.

Additionally, Arenas is just one of four players — Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Wade are the others — in the top 20 in scoring and assists.

Former Wizards guard Richard Hamilton, now a member of the Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons, is a first-time All-Star along with backcourt mate Chauncey Billups.

While Arenas is having a more productive season than both players, the Pistons (42-9) have the best record in the league. And while there are no set criteria among coaches, Pistons coach Flip Saunders said winning is important.

“If you look at it, winning games is crucial to the decisions that the coaches make when it comes to the game,” he said. “The Wizards are playing better now, but early on they were struggling. I think that probably play a big role.”

There are some Eastern Conference All-Stars who play for teams with worse records than the Wizards (26-25) — forward Paul Pierce plays for Boston (20-32), and forward Chris Bosh plays for Toronto (20-33).

Saunders’ reasoning doesn’t really pass the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately test, either. Arenas was the best player last season on a Wizards team that reached the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and advanced past the first round for the first time in 23 seasons.

“He carried them on his back last season, and when was the last time that happened?” said Hamilton, one of three Pistons All-Stars who once played for the Wizards. “He hasn’t talked about it much. When we’re in the locker room, you can tell that guys are just glad to be here. But I think he’s going to do a good job of helping guys remember how good he is when the season starts up again.”

Last night, Arenas started that process on Houston’s Toyota Center floor as a participant in the 3-point contest. He finished second to Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, who won the title with a score of 18 in the final round. Arenas finished with 16, and Seattle guard Ray Allen was third with 15.

Arenas advanced to the second round by scoring 14 in the first round. He was added to the competition, which was part of NBA All-Star Saturday Night, on Friday when Phoenix guard Raja Bell withdrew because of a family emergency.

Earlier yesterday, Arenas gave away 25 autographed jerseys following the Eastern Conference All Stars’ practice session. While it is a tradition of the NBA to provide players basketballs and other objects to give away, Arenas has his own tradition of giving away a jersey following each game he plays. He wanted to take that tradition further for the All-Star Game, so he gave away about $1,000 worth of jerseys he had purchased.

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