Arenas, in full rescue-the-reputation mode following his guilty plea for gun possession in the Wizards' locker room and his subsequent 50-game suspension by the NBA, "wrote" his well-crafted story for The Washington Post. In it, he seized on the typical heartstrings by addressing the kids, invoking the memory of his deceased owner and saying how shameful he was for letting down Abe Pollin's widow, Irene.
All of which I find breathtakingly disingenuous.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Arenas does not ultimately deserve forgiveness, or that he is not entitled to right his many wrongs. We are a forgiving society, for the most part, and when people are genuinely sorry, it is incumbent upon the rest of us to give that person another chance. (Not necessarily seven or eight chances, but at least a second chance.)
But is Arenas really sorry? Or is he sorry that he was nabbed and got his hand severely slapped -- to the tune of about $7.3 million in lost salary -- by David Stern? A part of me would rather see Arenas pull a Tiger Woods and disappear for a couple of months and let this entire thing be forgotten rather than continuing to stoke the flames of controversy.
Why does this particular story, in its current format, offend me? Let me count the ways.
First of all, when the New York Post broke this story, and then subsequent outlets continued to unearth the details, Arenas spent a good deal of time on his Twitter account ridiculing and denigrating the reporters who worked hard to find out what really happened. Now that he has pleaded guilty to a felony, and may face jail time, Arenas turns to the very communications vehicle that he so soundly dismissed and disparaged from the very beginning. If he really wanted to show a significant level of humility, he would have written his op-ed piece for the New York Post. Better yet, he would have sat down with that newspaper's NBA columnist, Peter Vecsey, and allowed him to write the story for him.
Which brings me to my next point: Everything about Arenas' story reeks of crisis public relations. I can picture a cavalcade of p.r. executives sitting in their high-backed leather chairs around a well-appointed conference table, writing their ideas in multiple colors of magic marker on a white board. "OK, gang, let's figure out how we can rescue Mr. Arenas from the depths of hell."
"Well, sir, why don't we go traditional? Align him with needy children and sympathetic widows."
"Done. Give yourself a raise."
I admit, that is extremely cynical. And, to his credit, Arenas actually has a history of being involved with children and advancing their causes. But I can't help but be skeptical when I see these forgiveness tours.
All aboard. Next stop: Roy Firestone's Teartown.
Though you no longer can sign on to Arenas' Twitter account, and you no longer can purchase an Arenas jersey at the NBA Store, surprisingly you can still find Arenas' old blog on NBA.com.
So I spent some time reading through his blog posts, including this irony: "[Washington Post columnist] Mike Wise did another great job capturing the basketball side of my life coming into this league. I know what he does gets personal, but if it's a good read, it's a good read. I'm loving what he's doing because it's the truth. That's what writing stories is about, no matter how deep you get. You don't want to sugarcoat somebody's life. You want to say, 'This is what his life was and this is where he is now.'"
Here is another one from 2007 that discusses rumors of his being traded to the Lakers for Kobe Bryant: "For the last couple weeks people have been calling me saying, 'Are you coming back to L.A.?' I'm like, 'Yeah, I am ... NOT.' Why would I be coming back to L.A.? Don't you know the season is getting ready to start? And they're like, 'No, they're talking about you and Kobe getting traded for each other.' And I'm like, 'Oh, that's what's up. Sounds nice ... NOT.' Nothing against getting traded, but that would be a dumb thing on the part of the team who is accepting me because don't they know I'm a free agent? What that means is, if you lose somebody who you really want and you come get me back and I leave too ... TA-DAH! That means you have nothing. So take my name out of it because whoever gets me, there ain't a guarantee that I'm staying."
Now, Arenas has been a prolific blogger and tweeter, and perhaps his writing has dramatically improved over the years. But I find it hard to believe that his style has gone from "NOT" to what was printed in TheWashington Post: "While I regret a lot about this incident, letting the kids down is my biggest regret. I love the time I spend with the kids here in the District, and it means a lot to me whenever I can help lift their spirits or inspire them."
Of course, Arenas is now getting guidance from a p.r. firm, not just winging it on the Internet. But if you are going to ask for forgiveness, then be sincere and speak from the heart. Don't have somebody else craft an apology for you. The very thing that Arenas took pride in was that he was his own person; that he did not succumb to The Man. In a way, that's what I admired about him, his refusal to conform.
Now that he has, I wonder a few things. He most likely is not going to play for the Wizards again. Too much has happened. There are too many raw, irreversible emotions on both sides. Does that mean, then, that this letter is hollow, and that the kids he says he so cherishes working with will be quickly forgotten and abandoned if and when he plays for another team? At the very least, if he is going to use them to rehabilitate his reputation, he owes them continued support regardless of his location.
Furthermore, what does this mean for his future as an NBA player? Because clearly he has been humbled by the powerful Stern. Clearly he has decided to bow his head and ask for forgiveness. Is one negotiated prerequisite for his return that he no longer be the defiant, self-proclaimed "goofball" that he loves being, that makes him original?
Has his current predicament eviscerated him, and if so, does that mean he will never again be the same player who once dropped 60 points on the Lakers?
In short, if he can't be Gilbert Arenas any longer, can he still be Agent Zero?
ARENAS: Looking to be better role model