Gilbert Arenas’ impact on Russell Westbrook, new NBA generation

Arenas’ impact on Westbrook, new NBA generation originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

As fun and electric as it was, the prime of Gilbert Arenas’ prime was relatively brief, a fleeting glimpse of what may have been a Hall of Fame career if he stayed healthy. At 25, he was a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection, but injuries took away his quickness and without that, he was never quite the same.

Arenas’ peak, however, was memorable and not just because of the ‘Agent Zero’ nickname and the buzzer-beaters. He was an absolute force on the offensive end, at 6-foot-4 with wide shoulders and a remarkable sense of timing off the dribble. He was a rare breed at the time, a point guard at that size who could score at the rate that he did. And his emphasis on taking lots of threes from especially deep range was ahead of his time.

Nowadays, there are more players around the league who employ a similar style, and Arenas himself has taken notice. On Friday night, during a press conference honoring his tenure with Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, Arenas shared which current players remind him of himself.

“A little bit of Dame [Lillard]. Dame, [James] Harden the way he draws fouls,” Arenas said, then launching into an opus about how he doesn’t like how referees call the game these days.

Lillard wears the same jersey number (0) as Arenas and is also famous for shooting long threes. Like Lillard, Harden is a tall guard who uses his strength, quick first step and threat of making threes to regularly drive to the rim.

Arenas likes both of their games, but had a preference for who he’d pick to take the last shot with the game on the line.

“Last second shot, I’d give it to Dame. I’d give it to Dame and Luka [Doncic] is a close second,” Arenas said.

Lillard is part of a longstanding legacy for Arenas involving the No. 0. He wore it as motivation, as it represented the number of minutes his detractors thought he would play in the NBA. After he became a superstar, it caught on.

Arenas was one of four players to wear No. 0 during his rookie year in 2001-02. Nowadays, there are 20, including stars like Lillard and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook played for the Wizards in 2020-21, and had long worn the number, but opted not to wear it even though he technically had the option.

“That’s the biggest honor, players who grew up loving the zero when they come to the city, especially like Westbrook,” Arenas said. “Somebody like Westbrook, when he comes here and he’s like ‘no, I want to wear four, I’m not going to wear zero’ because it’s basically retired in his mind. I was just sitting on my couch when I heard that ‘like wait, what?’ What you do, the triple-doubles, you take that zero and you’re going to put it on a bigger display for the future.”

Kyle Kuzma is another player who previously wore zero before coming to the Wizards. He told NBC Sports Washington last year he changed his number to ’33’ in a sign of respect to Arenas.

Kuzma grew up watching Arenas and has gotten to know him over the years.

“Gil’s my man, he’s great. He’s a comedian, he’s a great person. Really, really loves the game of basketball. It just shows how much he did here for a guy like Russell Westbrook to come here, a Hall of Fame player, a better player than he was to say respectfully ‘hey, you are Agent Zero,'” Kuzma said.

Kuzma remembers watching Arenas light up the Staples Center for 60 points back in 2006, when he squared off against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a regular season classic. Kuzma would love for the Wizards to bring back the uniforms the Wizards wore that night, with gold jerseys and black shorts.

The Wizards wore throwback uniforms on Friday night, the same ‘blue and bronze’ Arenas made popular.

“Oh man, I was pleading for it. I love those. I think those are ill for sure. These ones we have now are by far the best, but that’s gotta come next,” Kuzma said.

Due to the injuries which riddled his prime, Arenas’ career is left with a number of what-ifs, but his legacy lives on in today’s NBA. Friday night was a reminder of his impact.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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