WASHINGTON — Can you believe it’s been 10 years?
Yes, 10 years ago this month, in January 2007, before the Colts and Bears squared off in Super Bowl XLI, Gilbert Arenas transformed from a star player on a decent team to the reason to turn on the TV, no matter your rooting interest or where you lived.
As with all wonderful things, the magic stretch couldn’t last forever, and Arenas’ subsequent fall from grace was harder than many. But with the Wizards riding a wave of good feeling and a 14-game home winning streak, now feels like as good a time as ever to take a look back 10 years to when, perhaps more than any other time since the franchise moved to Washington, the Wizards became the center of attention not just for the NBA, but the entire sports world.
Arenas announced his intentions with his play on the floor right out of the gate in the 2006-07 season, going for 40 points twice in his first four games of the year, both wins at Verizon Center. In the early going, most of his big games came in Washington, as he averaged nearly 34 points through his first dozen home games, compared to just over 21 points a game on the road during that stretch. But anyone who wasn’t paying attention outside of D.C. certainly was after the Wizards went into Staples Center in mid-December and came away with a thrilling, 147-141 overtime win, in which Arenas shattered his career high with 60 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter and 16 in the overtime session, during which he single-handedly outscored the entire Lakers team.
There’s no mistaking the moment in time. The Wizards were wearing those eye-straining, Turn Ahead The Clock-looking, shimmery gold tops with the black shorts. Sure, Arenas’ performance was vs. the post-Shaq Lakers, but this was still against Kobe Bryant in his prime and Arenas absolutely shredded him. Bryant still had a huge night offensively, but was often stuck guarding Arenas at the other end and rarely had an answer, whether Arenas decided to drive past him or pull up and knock down jumpers in his face.
But that was only the table-setter for what was coming next. The calendar flipped to January and the buzzer beaters started dropping. Arenas had chosen the number “0” to reflect the chip on his shoulder from those who said he would play zero minutes in college at the University of Arizona. But this was the stretch where he really earned his Agent Zero nickname — coined the season prior — for the sharpshooter he became.
The first game of the new year was a Jan. 3 tilt against a Bucks team that had dropped the Wizards by 17 in Milwaukee just four days prior. Tied at 105 all on the last possession, Arenas took the ball himself, pulled up from 30 feet and hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
Then came the legendary 25th birthday party, too gloriously over-the-top to be fake. And then, just 12 days after the Milwaukee game, he did it again against Utah. In a 111-111 game, with just seconds left — starting about the same place on the floor as he did against Milwaukee — Arenas jab stepped toward the basket, creating just enough separation to pull up, just behind the arc, just in time.
Arenas poured in 51 in that win over the Jazz. He would have other big games — 43 in a three-point home win over Sacramento, a game-winner at the buzzer to cap a 42-point performance at Seattle. But in that crazy monthlong stretch through December and January where he had 10 30-plus point games, (including three of 50 or more) in a 15-game stretch, he was on another planet.
We’ve seen other cities taken in by spells of greatness since, like when “Linsanity” captivated New York in 2012. We’ve also had our own moment in another sport here in Washington, when RG3’s meteoric rookie season took the District by storm.
You never know when the next athlete will ascend to such a level and the rush always feels like a fever dream, a spectacle you’re never really sure of until it’s gone. Until the next one comes along in Washington, at least we can appreciate Arenas’ for all it was.