He stayed out of the social media circle and out of the spotlight that caused him so much angst in recent years, and on Dec. 9, the Orlando Magic used their amnesty clause on the three-time All-Star. Arenas, who struggled in 49 games with the Magic after being acquired from Washington in December 2010, is owed $62 million over the next three years.
In his 10-month respite from the NBA floor, the 30-year-old Arenas is starting to become whole again, personally and professionally. He's returned to the court, most recently in a workout for the Lakers in Los Angeles, has shed more than 20 pounds since last season and has stabilized his home life with his longtime girlfriend and mother of his four kids.
Arenas spoke candidly with SI.com in a 90-minute interview that touched on everything from the ill-fated gun incident in the Wizards' locker room on Christmas Eve 2009 to the "downward spiral" it caused in recent years to his long road back.
SI.com: Where are you at with getting back to work?
Arenas: When I got amnestied, I was told by my mentor [Magic general manager Otis Smith] to do a couple things before I decided to get back to the NBA, and that was clear my mind, get my thoughts together and get myself healthy. That's what I've been doing, getting healthy. I didn't like the product I put out last year and the only thing you can do about that is just get it better.
SI.com: What goes into clearing your mind?
Arenas: Reflecting. You just reflect on your basketball career and see how far you came. I watch a lot of game tape of last year in Washington and finishing up in Orlando. I just realized even going back to training camp it was basically a spiral down. I didn't have it anymore. I didn't have the spirit. I guess somewhere that summer, or somewhere the season before that, I lost the spirit to play, and that's what showed last year. I was depressed.
When something drastic happens in our life, one person goes and hides and doesn't want to be seen. That's what I did. [Others] want to stand up and fight and think they're tough. Like if someone gets shot, you're either scared of guns or you think you're Superman. In my situation, I wanted to hide. I didn't want to be seen anymore.
SI.com: Does it feel like you can get that spirit back?
Arenas: Someone close to me told me I lost myself a long time ago when I invented Agent Zero, and I didn't understand what the person was talking about at the time. He's like, "You were basically on the road down anyway, the image you were putting out meant you were going to get killed at some point." Now it's like, "Yeah, you were right."
When I got amnestied, I could've just taken the money and just left, and just basically said, "Hey, you guys did me a favor. I don't want to be crucified anymore." As much as I've done for fans and for people, it sucks the way the world works. You can do a hundred things for people, but you do one bad mistake and everyone crucifies you and that's all they want to remember. They don't want to remember I gave my own money to the [Washington] D.C. school district and built up the D.C. school district. They don't want to remember none of that. They just want to remember, "Oh, I single-handedly destroyed the Washington Wizards franchise." It sucks, but that's the way it is.
So I decided I'm not here to prove anybody wrong anymore. I'm just here to prove myself right. I'm not here to chase the money, to chase stats. Now what you have is a basketball player who's ready to play, and that's what people don't understand. Like on Sept. 1, when I shut my Twitter down, this is the first time you're hearing from me, because I let everything go. Who I am is what you don't hear. When you don't hear me, I'm living my life -- quiet, I don't get in trouble, don't drink, don't smoke. But if you ask anybody else, I'm just this -- what would they call me? -- problem child. Somebody who gets in trouble all the time.
I don't pay attention anymore. But right now, you have a basketball player. I work out two times a day, every day. I watch tape. I play basketball. If I don't play in the NBA, I'm playing at the YMCA and I'm just as happy.
SI.com: What's your setup like now in Orlando?
Arenas: It's regular -- regular house with regular people around me. All I want to be is regular.
NBA is fantasy. Sports are fantasy. Driving around in all the new cars and jewelry and all of this -- that's fantasy. And if you can't escape, then you lose yourself. If you can't get home, can't escape that world, you lose yourself in it because fans, media -- they can't decipher between the two. They don't realize there's two different people. Like Lady Gaga, that's the image she's giving you guys, but when she's at home, she's a normal person. And when she's in the public eye, that's who she is. When I was in the public eye, I was Agent Zero. When I'm home, and I'm away from everybody, I'm me. And I felt when "me" got attacked with that felony charge, I didn't know how to react with that one.
SI.com: What do you mean?
Arenas: Like when you get in a trouble -- it's not like I got in trouble in the regular world. I didn't get in trouble in the regular world. I got in trouble in my fantasy world. And when I hear [former players] crucify me, it irritates me sometimes because I used to read stuff on them so it's like, "How do you even have the nerve to say that?" Sometimes I just hate listening to them when they talk about the NBA and the new players and stuff like that, because the funny thing is the older players used to say the same things about them, too, and it goes on and on and on and on.
But when you get in trouble at your workplace, the only way someone finds out is if somebody wants you to hear about it -- just like at your home. If I hear something about you at your house, then somebody at your household wants me to hear about it.
SI.com: With something that serious, though, wouldn't it always get out?
Arenas: At some point everything does get out, right? Players are always talking -- hearsay exists -- but if it gets put out, then somebody wants it to be put out. Prime examples: Cleveland with LeBron [James]. While he was there, no problem with LeBron, right? Soon as he leaves, it's, "Oh, he did this in Game 5" and [so on]. It's because they don't need him anymore. He doesn't do anything for them anymore, so you can go try to paint his name. [And with] Carmelo [Anthony]: Hey, while he's there [in Denver], it's [great]. Then he gets traded, and they talk about him. It's the same thing.
SI.com: So what's the conclusion -- that the Wizards were done with you?
Arenas: Were they done with me? I can't get into that. I just feel like the NBA is a fantasy. You live in a dream. My felony charge is real-life stuff. But I'm crucified, like I just go out in the streets [causing problems], but no one sees me. No one sees me in public. I'm in my house all the time.
SI.com: You get out to the YMCA, though. What's that group like? Anybody there with any past experience?
Arenas: I'm playing with players who just love the game of basketball. Past experience? They've played the game of basketball before, yeah [laughs].
SI.com: Are these 65- or 70-year-old guys out there or what?
Arenas: There's some 45, pushing 50. Other than that, it's 30s, 20s, some teens. It's fun. That's fun basketball.
SI.com: Tell me about the platelet-rich therapy you underwent in early January.
Arenas: I had the procedure done on my knees and hips in New York because I kept hearing how much better Kobe [Bryant] felt [the Lakers' 33-year-old guard had it done on his right knee last June]. So I did my research into it, called the people in Germany and they told me what the process was and what it targeted -- arthritis, achiness -- and that's what I was dealing with. So I ended up having the procedure.
By the second shot, I was feeling 10 times better, so I ended up getting six shots and I actually did both of my knees because basically I was favoring one side of the leg for the last couple of years [because of three knee surgeries]. It was six days, every day. And then I came back a week later and had my hips done.
I'm not going to lie, I feel so much better. I'm jumping and moving like before I got injured, like it's basically '06 again. My explosiveness, my jumping ability, my quickness -- it feels like I never got injured. I can see why he's out there doing what he's doing at his age.
SI.com: So where did you leave things with the Lakers after your workout?
Arenas: That was kind of weird, the situation. I was actually training in New York, and my agent, Dan Fegan, told me to come out and work out for the Lakers. My whole thing is, I don't want to play for anybody until I'm finished rehabbing and finished doing what I need to do, so that's not going to happen until at least All-Star break. So I decided, Well, I'll just go out there and work out.
SI.com: Was it just the Lakers or was anyone else watching?
Arenas: When you're in there getting buckets, you're not really paying attention to who's there. You're just doing your thing. To me, it didn't matter who it was -- could've been the D-League team or whatever. I'm just showing you what I have. You can either keep reading newspapers articles where they say I'm 40 pounds overweight and I lost a step -- all the fantasy stuff people want to talk about because they're going off my last year where I was basically mentally out of it. Or you can just see for yourself: This is what I am. A 6-foot-3 guard, 6-10 wingspan, still got his quickness, can still jump, still fast. I make shots, and that's what I am. I'm not here to sell anything, but look, here's what I am and then I'm going back home to my family.
SI.com: Mostly drill stuff?
Arenas: It was just mostly drills, and then creating shots off the dribble, attacking the basket. Some full-court stuff, which I was just straight winded -- whew! [laughs]. But I got up as fast as I can. I figured, Just show your speed. I don't think they really care about your wind right now. It was fun. You feel like a rookie again.
SI.com: Did you talk to Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak?
Arenas: Yeah, I talked to Mitch. We had a nice conversation. Can't tell you what it was about. But I have a basketball mind. I'm not some complete idiot. I do idiot things, but I'm not a complete idiot.
SI.com: You are obviously remembered by a lot of folks for what happened in the Wizards' locker room in 2009. How do you handle that?
Arenas: You've got to take the good with the bad. When you do something good, if it gets magnified, you're some Jesus. And then when you do something bad, you become Satan. But two years later, if you're still talking about a mistake I made, then something is really wrong with you. Like when you write an article, if you're going to bring up the gun thing, then bring up that I adopted somebody when his parents died in a fire. Put that in there, too.
I guess negative things sell, and we can tell because we've got these reality TV shows where everybody just beats themselves senseless and we just keep tuning in. That's where my iffiness comes back and the reason I stayed away so long, is like, "Do I even want to be a part of that anymore?"
I'm happy now. I'm a race-car driver.
SI.com: A race-car driver?
Arenas: I ride Shifter Karts, Go Karts. There's a place in Orlando -- Orlando Kart Center -- where I ride. I'm all right for a beginner. I went to California and went to this MB2 center [for indoor Kart racing], and out of 200,000 people I already broke down to a 1,000 in just six races, which isn't bad.
So I'm doing my thing, got a new profession, having a little fun. You know, this is the first time I've been able to enjoy life. I put so much time into basketball. It's kind of funny now how you read stuff. I remember before I was this gym rat who loved to play basketball, and all of a sudden I was [made out] to be [like] Shawn Kemp.
SI.com: You definitely sound like you're enjoying yourself.
Arenas: I think I'm seeing life how I saw it before I got famous, and that's hard to do sometimes. It's hard to break yourself back down. I'm loving life. I go fishing with my family. We take the kids to skate parks and skating rinks and golf course places. It's like, "Man, I haven't had this kind of fun in a long time." Basketball just took over my life and it's all I could think about.
Even right now, I sit on NBA TV and just watch everything. I watch the games, I watch who's who and who's doing what, who I think is going to be successful because of the style they play.
That's who I am, but I get to enjoy it again as a fan. That's why I say that as of right now, if I'm willing to go back into the NBA, then you know that it's just strictly basketball. And you know I'm giving you a product because I'm not on the outside looking in, in the sense that I'm just trying to come back because I need a paycheck. I still have my contract. So if I'm coming back, then that means I have something to offer basketball-wise.
SI.com: Are we definitely going to see you again, or is there part of you that's just testing the waters?
Arenas: I look at it like this: Everybody has to be on the same page of wanting me. Because it's like everyone wants to say, "Oh, well he's a locker-room cancer." Well, I've been in the NBA for 10 years, and I had one incident in a locker room and now I'm a locker-room cancer? I'd never got in an argument before, never got in a fistfight.
But if someone picks me up, I want them to be happy about it. I don't want them to be like, ''Oh, man, he's going to come in here and do this and that." That never works. If you don't want the person there, you shouldn't bring them in.
My ex-coach Phil Hubbard [former Wizards assistant] and Eric Musselman [Arenas' former coach with the Warriors] called me to come to the D-League [where they coach the Lakers' affiliate]. I said, "Well, after the All-Star break, once I'm ready to go, sure, I'll come play. I'll come out there and break all the D-Leaguer ankles."
It's basketball, man. You've just got to enjoy it.
SI.com: You used the word depressed. How down are we talking?
Arenas: When I came back [in the 2010-11 season after being suspended for the final 50 games of 2009-10], I just didn't want to be around people. And that's why I grew the beard. I don't need you to see me no more. I'm gone. I don't want to be here.
You know how when you think someone is talking about you, and you try to go in with high spirits when you start off, but as soon as one bad thing happens you revert? Once I got to Orlando, I got my spirit back. I was around some people who like me and we're on an eight-game winning streak and then all of a sudden I get my playing time cut and then from there I just lost it. I couldn't think anymore. Every shot, I thought about shooting -- just like [the Magic] players playing now. They're not losing their game -- Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, they're not losing their games. They're just going through so much pressure now with the Dwight [Howard trade situation].
I tried so hard to fit in and let people know, "Yo, that [Wizards incident] was not me. The things people are saying about me is not me. That's not who I really am." I made a mistake, and I was tying so hard to fit in with everybody that I couldn't play the right way.
There was a point where I don't even think I talked to the media the last two months. I just took my showers and just went home. And then when I went home, I basically never left the house. I was just in denial.
I remember I was at Dwight's barbecue, and I'm hearing him on the microphone and I'm just watching him and I'm sitting in a corner trying to hide from fans -- it was so sad -- and didn't want to be around people anymore. I'm looking at [Dwight] like, "Man, that used to be me. I used to be the life of the party." And he's just in there enjoying himself, saying, "Everybody, let's dance" and this and this. And that kind of got my spirit back up, like, "What the hell am I over here sulking for, like a little girl?"
Then a reporter said, "Look, just bring Agent Zero's spirit back. Get a Twitter, say your funny jokes, get yourself back. Because right now, man, it's not just that you lost your game -- you're mentally gone. Get your mentality back. Get the cockiness back. Get the rudeness back."
It all plays a part, so that's when I created my Twitter.
SI.com: Doesn't that contradict what you were saying before about getting away from Agent Zero?
Arenas: No, just the spirit. Not the person. Just the spirit, the outgoingness of people. The thing is, man, you know I can't sit in groups of people anymore.
Arenas: I don't know, because I don't know what people are thinking. So instead of just sitting there and feeling awkward, I just go to my room, go into the hotel. Like now, I work out with earphones on. I just realized how bad it was. That's why Otis said, "Yo, get yourself back together. You're like a spark plug. You make people laugh. You make people smile. And if you can't make people smile and laugh, you can't make yourself smile and laugh."
SI.com: Is that part of it getting any better for you? That's a rough way to go through your days.
Arenas: You know, so much happened so fast, and I never got to think about it. I get injured, I get injured, I get injured ... and then my coach gets fired [Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was fired after the team's 1-10 start in 2008-09], my owner [the late Abe Pollin] died [on Nov. 24, 2009] -- he was my dad away from home -- and then the gun incident and the media and all that stuff. I get back [to the team], I get traded and then me and my girlfriend [Laura Govan], we're going through it, and then she puts me on blast, so it was just so much. My mom [who abandoned him when he was 3 before he was raised by his father, Gilbert Sr.] died during all that, and I didn't even get to reconcile with her to say I forgive her and all that stuff. I had so much in there and I didn't have time to really think about anything.
SI.com: It's all heavy stuff. Did you ever talk to a therapist about any of this?
Arenas: A therapist? I just watched Dexter and The Sopranos [laughs]. If Tony Soprano goes to the therapist, then I just use that. That's it. I just watch TV, try to keep a good spirit, and that's how I've always been.
SI.com: Hadn't you met your mom only once?
Arenas: Yeah, because she left me when I was 3. I got to meet her my first year in the NBA, and then I never got to talk to her, sit down with her. I know her whole thing was, "Does he know I'm sorry for [leaving]?" And I didn't get to say, "I forgive you, don't worry about it." You know, I grew up to be a good man. I might have my issues like every other person, but other than that I have a good heart, a good spirit and I didn't get to sit down with her.
SI.com: How's your dad doing?
Arenas: He's good. He's watching high school basketball [in Los Angeles] and high school football. He likes to see young talent. That's his thing.
SI.com: You going to head his way with the Lakers, you think, or will you go somewhere else?
Arenas: I remember reading an article saying [the Lakers] was my dream team -- like three teams: Lakers, Miami, New York. And I was like, "Well, I'm flattered, but I've got to get myself right first." I didn't like what I did last year. I watched those games and I didn't have any soul. I didn't play with a purpose. So I took this summer and basically went back into the lab, got my body right, got my weight down, lost 20-something pounds, watched film. Just got the love of the game back. That's never going to leave. I just love the game of basketball.
SI.com: Where are you at with your weight?
Arenas: I played at 222 [pounds] in my good years, and I'm 208, 210 right now. Last year, last game of the playoffs, I was 232. It was good food, man. I read something that was like, "Well, he was out of shape this year." And I'm like, "Well, technically, I came to you guys at 214, but all that good food and sitting on that bench just gets you fat."
SI.com: You talk about being so uncomfortable. But I remember seeing you last year and you were having a good time with the guys in the locker room. Were you just hiding it?
Arenas: You know how you put on a mask? And how when you're not around people you get to be yourself? I'm in the locker room, and I get to be myself. People don't realize NBA players are around their teammates more than their family, so you get to be around everybody, joking, telling your stories and you get to have fun. But as soon as the lights came on, I looked at it like, "These are the wolves. I've got to go perform. I've got to try hard so they don't boo me. I've got to try hard so they don't think I'm a bad guy, I've got to make the shot. If I miss the shot, I'm going to get put on the bench."
I just didn't know what the hell was going on with me. Mentally, I was just distraught.
SI.com: I don't remember you ever talking about that day in the Wizards' locker room. Can you go into it?
Arenas: I've never talked about it, and I felt like this: The reason I never talked about it was because if [the media] couldn't do your own research to find out the truth, then why should I do it for you? It was like, "If you don't care, I don't care."
OK, I owed my teammate [Javaris Crittenton] money and I pulled a gun on him? OK, does that even make sense, like I owed you money but I'm pulling a gun on you?
When somebody writes an article, it can be 10 percent right and 90 percent wrong, but if they write it, it's going to be 100 percent right. And the more you try to explain it, the more you look like you're lying.
If I did everything they said I did in that locker room, how come they never tried to void my contract? That's the only way I can explain it. Not even attempted [to void the contract]. Not even talked about attempting it. That's actual facts. I'm not making that up.
SI.com: Do people ever just bring it up on the street when you're out and about? How often are you hit with it?
Arenas: No. People come up to me and have a conversation with me, especially at the YMCA, where I do spin class in the mornings. You have people who want to talk to you to see what kind of person you are, and then you have people saying, "Oh, you don't seem like what they made you out to be."
Before that incident, I was the people's champion, God's gift to all fans, gave fans everything. If I never go back to the NBA, I had a great career. I've hit big shots. I've had my moments. Hey, everyone can't win a championship, but I had fun. I got to play the game that I always dreamed of, and I did it more than I expected it. That's how I look at it now.
SI.com: So what's next? Where are you going to play?
Arenas: All I know is I've got a Daddy-Son Donut Day on the 24th. You go to the school, and you have donuts. That's what I'm looking forward to.