Gilbert, Kobe and "the day the music died"

January, 8, 2010
1/08/10
3:27
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Jesse D. Garrabrandt/Getty Images
Clearly, "damage control" wasn't Gilbert Arenas' major at 'Zona.



The last phrase being the one my wife used to describe Verizon Center's ginormous Gilbert Arenas banner being removed.

A month ago, if you told me Arenas would be on "indefinite suspension" and facing anything from contract nullification to potential jail time, I'd have expected the little lady in full "Don McLean" mode (although I'm grateful she refrained from any singing, as I despise that six-hour ballad). My wife has harbored a longtime crush on Agent Zero. She found the "Hibachi" catchphrase amusing. She found his play charismatic. And, well, she dug his mug, all of which amounted to placement on her "automatic freebie list," along with Clive Owen --#1 with a serious bullet-- Dwight Howard, Troy Aikman, Sam Elliott, and Law & Order's Jesse L. Martin (who actually bears a fairly striking resemblance to Arenas, which, by female logic, meant the two could occupy the same spot on the list without surpassing the allotted "five." I didn't bother arguing.)

Between the initial stupidity of bringing guns into the workplace and Arenas' subsequent behavior (Twitter wars, apologies wreaking of "my lawyer wrote this for me" quickly followed by claims of no remorse, baiting David Stern, Finger Gun-Gate), however, she quickly grew turned off by her one-time fantasy man. Granted, timing also reared its ugly head, as recent shirtless paparazzi photos of Matt Kemp (with reported girlfriend Rihanna) struck her fancy enough to bump somebody regardless. However, I'm guessing her first inclination would have been to oust Elliott, who's getting up there in years. But after watching Arenas act the fool too many times, picking which hunk to vote off the island became easy.


As Dan Steinberg of the outstanding DC Sports Bog notes, an icon's fall can be striking to watch. But even more striking can be the way damage control is handled. Last night, I was watching the Rose Bowl with some friends and a discussion broke out regarding how underground Tiger Woods currently resides as his world crumbles. As one friend pointed out, a picture of Woods doing even the most mundane activity would snap up huge bucks, which drives home even further Tiger's seclusive approach as he decides what the next move should be. That's certainly one way to handle things. You can also mock the whole situation, which I think we can all agree Arenas has proved a poor tactic.

And as I thought about Arenas and Tiger, I couldn't help but flash back to Kobe Bryant's' 2003-2004 season when rape charges were hanging over his head. Bryant refused to discuss anything beyond the initial press conference declaring his innocence. But he remained in the public eye, and his basketball success while juggling clouds of suspicion, court appearances requiring separate and often last-second arrivals to arenas, plus two games in Colorado, the state potentially housing his life sentence behind bars, was undeniably remarkable. Even those believing the worst in Kobe may have been nonetheless impressed by the laser focus mustered during an extremely difficult period (one Phil Jackson wondered at times might have been better spent sitting out). They're very separate issues, the accusations and the basketball performances with his future in limbo, and the latter was flat out amazing, viewed purely through the prism of achievement under duress.

Ironically, in 2010, charges long-since dropped, with Kobe's image drastically washed, his popularity at arguably an all-time high and his play as good as ever, that dark period in Bryant's life now serves as part of his legend. Proof positive of an ability to remain dialed in like perhaps no other athlete in history. Those tribulations eventually shifted, to some degree, into lore. Undoubtedly, this wouldn't be possible without Kobe overcoming the stigma of busting up the three-peat core, making necessary strides as a teammate, winning another title and possessing some exceptionally loyal fans. But in retrospect, the reclamation project that is Kobe's image may have also benefited by handling the legal situation in very business-like fashion. Maybe not directly at the time, but down the line, I think there's a case to be made, which would have been impossible to predict as it happened.

And with reports emerging that ex-Laker Jarvaris Crittenton may have brandished a loaded gun, I can't help but wonder if Gilbert had handled things differently, if he'd embraced the common sense to lay low and appear sorry for his actions (even if he's not), maybe he'd come out of this mess viewed more sympathetically. Not so much that a hefty suspension wouldn't still be in order for being stupid enough to bring his unregistered guns into the locker room, but perhaps enough to remind people how, at this drama's heart, was a prank. A prank beyond foolish, no doubt, but without malice at the roots. At the very least, with the dust settled and the benefit of time, some goodwill might await him. Instead, Arenas seemed more interested in pushing buttons and "being Gilbert," which now comes off less "quirky" and more like a spoiled, clueless athlete. He turned this into an even bigger nightmare, and now must own that, along with the potentially more difficult task of career and personal resuscitation.

Bottom line, we almost always possess the ability to make a choice. And if you're determined to use that opportunity as a chance to shoot yourself in the foot (pun intended), you'll likely succeed, even if the gun's unloaded.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0