Before the announcer may scream his identify, he twirled a towel above his head, simply as he did when he owned this place. When the highlight discovered him inside Capital One Arena, he was strolling in the direction of the throwback stickman Wizards emblem at middle court docket. And there have been no boos. At one level, Arenas feared there could be.
On Friday night time, because the Washington Wizards honored their previous, they welcomed again their three finest gamers from the mid-2000s: Jamison, who now works within the staff’s entrance workplace; Butler, an assistant for the opposing staff Friday night time, the Miami Heat; and, after all, him. There can be no “Big Three” with out him. They can say his identify round right here once more.
Wizards’ ‘Big Three’ reuniting for a throwback night time
“I imply, it is all the things. It’s some extent in historical past that is just about not talked about for an prolonged time frame,” Butler stated. “It by no means felt fairly proper, however now having Gilbert again the place he belongs, it is solely proper. It feels particular.”
But first, that they had to get right here. To a spot the place the nice reminiscences outweighed the darkish clouds, the place forgiveness meets reconciliation.
Over the previous 11 years, each events prevented that place. The finish of the Big Three recast the period with 4 phrases of remorse: “What may have been.” The pleasure that adopted game-winners and the dream of better playoff success have been changed by a shadow of unhappiness. That despair lingered so lengthy as a result of the Wizards could not acknowledge or rejoice these years with out resurrecting essentially the most embarrassing second in franchise historical past, when a joke went awry and Arenas introduced weapons into an NBA locker room. Their locker room.
All the whereas, on the opposite coast, Arenas stayed in a self-imposed exile. When the staff traded him, he did not even say goodbye to the workers. So over the years, when John Wall, the franchise star who usurped Arenas, invited him to video games at Capital One Arena, he turned down the invites. In retirement, if he traveled an extended distance and the layover meant he would make a quick cease within the DC space, he booked a unique flight.
Oh, he had no issues reminiscing about that point — Arenas, the strolling quote, typically poured out honesty when he addressed his knucklehead habits, notably the gun incident. But he had no need in revisiting the scene of his best profession remorse.
“It was extra [feeling] responsible on my half,” Arenas admitted Friday. “I did not get to say bye to everybody who took care of me. It was extra of these, like, “Oh, my God, I’m going to see all people I simply pretended that I left behind.’ It was simply a kind of issues the place it was extra me simply feeling responsible about how I left.”
A decade-plus wanted to go for each events to ease their stance. This previous summer time, the Wizards’ advertising staff brainstormed new concepts to promote residence video games. The 2022-23 season can be the silver anniversary of the Wizards’ model, a straightforward commemoration as a result of the blue and bronze nostalgia performs nicely. Via e-mail, majority proprietor Ted Leonsis shared with me how the advertising staff’s conversations, each in home and with followers, made it clear the staff wanted to rejoice the Big Three. Which meant Arenas wanted to come residence.
“Our followers have overwhelmingly responded with enthusiasm on the likelihood to see the reunion, and all three of them are excited to reciprocate that love on Friday night time,” Leonsis stated within the e-mail.
And so Sashia Jones, the vp of participant growth, made the decision to California. Arenas requested all of the questions. Are you certain? Is Ted okay with this? ‘Town and Caron? They’re okay with this, too? He requested for this reassurance as a result of a lot remorse can construct up over 11 years.
“‘Let me give it some thought. Give me a few week,’ ” Arenas stated of his response to Jones. “And I had to get my little jitters out first.”
Jitters. The man who handled the basketball court docket as efficiency artwork — taking his bow on the Staples Center flooring after he scored 60 or luxuriating in his game-winning three in opposition to Utah earlier than the shot even went in. How may he have jitters?
Well, possibly as a result of household reunions will be messy. And this one got here ripe with problems and revisionist historical past. When they promoted this occasion, the Wizards performed up all the nice reminiscences however minimize out the nasty bits: Arenas’s suspension for the remainder of the 2010 season, his 30-day sentence at a midway home after he pleaded responsible to felony gun possession, the mutual need for a divorce earlier than the Wizards lastly unloaded his contract to Orlando on the finish of the yr.
“We have been in a position to take a significant step ahead by getting the highest total decide within the draft and deciding on John Wall,” Leonsis, who took possession of the staff in June 2010, wrote within the e-mail. “We have been affected person and the chance to make a commerce introduced itself roughly six months later. The deal gave each us and Gilbert a recent begin and took us into a brand new period that ultimately led to the profitable pairing of John and Bradley [Beal].”
The Wizards didn’t dwell on the Big Three as a result of the franchise moved on and tried to overlook. But all these years later, the Wizards lastly forgave.
Still, when Arenas lastly boarded a airplane destined for this area this week, he felt he had to accomplish that whereas hiding below a hoodie. Returning wasn’t straightforward. During a pregame information convention, Arenas sat between his teammates, however he was the one one sweating, and it wasn’t due to the intense digicam lights.
All these years and he hasn’t modified a lot bodily. He nonetheless regarded just like the Agent Zero who would yell “Hibachi!” But on Friday night time, he regarded extra just like the Arenas folks had come to love round right here: considerably immature, a bit weak and totally human.
“We at all times remorse our previous, however our previous often lets us know who we at the moment are,” Arenas stated.
My guess is that somebody — or a number of people — within the Monumental Sports & Entertainment advertising division grew up watching Arenas. And these followers they talked to — they most likely first embraced basketball on this metropolis thanks to Agent Zero. They remembered how tv commentator Steve Buckhantz would shout “Dagger!” after his largest pictures. And how he gave away his jersey after each sport. Hoops followers bear in mind these moments. They simply remember their old flame. And I’m additionally guessing Arenas by no means realized how a lot he was cherished right here.
“I did not assume he really felt that manner till we had the Zoom name after which as we acquired shut. He was like: “Man, I’m nervous. They’re going to boo me,’ ” Jamison stated about Arenas’s trepidation. “I’m like: ‘Who’s going to boo you?’ Like, why?’ It type of threw me off that he felt that manner however for him to be again to see acquainted faces. And I feel tonight at halftime, it is going to be unbelievable.”
So at halftime between the Wizards and Heat, the franchise embraced one in all its perfect. The followers cheered out loud. Even if the ovation wasn’t as thunderous because it had been throughout these higher days when the Big Three electrified the gang.
The appreciation continued all through the sport as Arenas sat courtside, proper subsequent to the proprietor’s son, Zach (Ted was out of city). He spent timeouts speaking to Wizards gamers or smiling for photos with close by followers. They confirmed how a lot they missed Agent Zero however how a lot they nonetheless love Gil.