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The Big Twenty: The rise and fall of Gilbert Arenas

The Big Twenty: The rise and fall of Gilbert Arenas

For the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 14.

When asked to point out when Gilbert Arenas' downfall began, most would cite his infamous decision to bring guns into the Wizards locker room in Dec. 21, 2009. But those who followed his career closely know the turning point was actually on April 4, 2007.
 
That night the Wizards were playing the Charlotte Bobcats when forward Gerald Wallace missed a layup in traffic and fell into Arenas' left knee, tearing his medial collateral ligament (MCL). Even at the time, the injury did not seem as daunting as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or Achilles tendon, yet little did we know Arenas would never be the same.
 
That moment was the beginning of the end of one of the most promising careers in the NBA at the time. Arenas rose to stardom quickly, but he crashed just as fast, leaving many to this day wondering what could have been.
 
Arenas' ascension began with the Golden State Warriors, where he went from a second-round draft pick to the NBA's most improved player in 2002-03 to free agency, all in a span of two years. Due to a loophole in the league's collective bargaining agreement that has since been changed, Arenas was able to bolt from the Warriors and sign for more money with the Wizards.
 
By his second year in Washington, Arenas was an NBA All-Star. And by his third year he was competing for scoring titles, averaging 29.3 points per game, second in franchise history only to Walt Bellamy's 31.6 in 1961-62.
 
The Wizards had been to the playoffs just once in 16 years before 2005 when Arenas helped lead them to three straight postseason runs. He made All-NBA three times, the first Wizards/Bullets player to do so since Elvin Hayes in the 1970s. The only other Wizards player to make All-NBA this century was John Wall and he's done it once.
 
Arenas wasn't simply an NBA star, either. He was a showman with a knack for coming through in big moments. He made a series of buzzer-beaters during the brief time he was at his peak powers, including one to win a playoff game against the Chicago Bulls in 2005.
 
Arenas had many other clutch shots during the regular season, including one against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 3, 2007 when he turned and casually walked away, as if he knew it was going in. He made fans who showed up to the arena always feel like they could see something special that night.
 
Arenas holds the franchise record for points in a single game with 60, set on Dec. 17, 2006 on a night the late Kobe Bryant famously said Arenas had "no conscience." That game fell within a 30-day stretch where Arenas scored 50 points or more three times. Just six days later, after dropping 60 at Staples Center, he scored 54 against the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns, one of the best NBA teams of that decade.
 
To understand just how special Arenas was as a scorer, just look at this list. Here are the only players since 2000 to score 50 points or more three times within a single season: Bryant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson. Arenas is the only one who won't end up in the Hall of Fame. That's how good of an offensive player he was. 
 
Arenas’ size and strength for a point guard, 6-foot-4 with broad shoulders, was a major match-up problem. He was before his time in that regard, a bully at the position years before big point guards like Wall and Westbrook became commonplace.
 
Arenas combined that strength with a cat-quick first step and deep shooting range that pushed the boundaries of what was possible. He could pull up from 35 feet and sink a jump shot or put the ball on the floor and muscle his way to the rim. That combination led to him being one of the best in the game at getting to the free-throw line, where he shot 80.3 percent for his career. He averaged as many as 10 free throws per game back in 2005-06.
 
All those factors made Arenas one of the most gifted scorers of his generation. Several years ago, former teammate Caron Butler compared his game to Harden's and it's easy to see why. A lot of what we see today from Harden and other elite deep shooters like Curry and Atlanta’s Trae Young has roots in Arenas’ days in Washington.
 
There was also Arenas’ personality which, though quirky and with a dark side that would later reveal itself in full, helped make him a larger-than-life superstar. He would light up opposing teams, then deliver front-page quotes afterward. Lines like “my swag was phenomenal” and “hibachi” were part of his legend.
 
Unfortunately, Arenas' career can't be explained without including a wide variety of negative storylines. His knee injury was followed by a frustrating saga between him and the Wizards’ medical staff. His post-playing career has been marred by controversial statements and a disconnect with the Wizards franchise. And, of course, there is the gun incident in the locker room at Capital One Arena, among the most ill-advised off-court decisions in league history.
 
Arenas lived an eventful, yet incomplete NBA life. His career was over at age 30. If he had only stayed healthy, and out of his own way, maybe he would have ended up in the Hall of Fame. Maybe he would have led the Wizards to places they haven’t been in decades. We’ll never know. All we can do is continue to marvel at his extraordinary rise-and-fall, even all these years later.

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Troy Brown, Jr. shares what life is like for Wizards inside the NBA Bubble

Troy Brown, Jr. shares what life is like for Wizards inside the NBA Bubble

Celebrating a 21st birthday usually requires a party with family and friends to commemorate the first (legal) taste of alcohol. 

For Wizards guard Troy Brown, Jr., a simple team dinner with a glass of wine did the trick. 

“Ian (Mahinmi) got me some wine, so we got to celebrate it,” Brown said on the Bleav in Wizards podcast. “They took me out to dinner and stuff and he got me some wine. So my man looked out for me for sure.” 

For Brown, his love for the game of basketball makes up for not getting a real chance to bring in the big occasion with a proper party. Brown said he was used to the sacrifice of giving up birthday parties for summer tournaments anyways. 

Still, given the current conditions under the pandemic, it would have been impossible for Brown to celebrate his July 28th birthday at the bar or with a large gathering even if the Wizards season was already completed. Instead, Brown celebrated with growth. 

Brown told Bullets Forever’s Matt Modderno and former Wizard fan favorite Larry Hughes his mindset going into the Orlando bubble was all about getting better and showing everyone what he could do. With Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans opting out, Brown’s role on offense increased and he’s shown flashes that he can be a player for the future with Washington -- even if the Wizards have been eliminated from the postseason and are without a win so far. 

The number of minutes hasn’t been the only thing to increase in Brown’s life, however. Premiering his video series titled “Ballin’ in the Bubble,” Brown’s YouTube page has soared to over eight thousand subscribers looking for an inside glimpse of life in the bubble. 

In each vlog, it’s easy to see Brown having fun with his teammates while still working hard to improve his game. The inside looks give Wizards fans access into what kind of personalities make up the locker room, making it that much more enjoyable to cheer them on.  

“We’re athletes and everybody always wants to know what we are doing on the court,” said Brown. “But off the court, as people, to be able to show our personalities and even to be able to show my teammates on that type of platform whether or not they’re just being themselves and they’re not just doing it because I’m holding a camera. It’s definitely dope and the opportunity has been great.”

Brown said when he was tweeting the idea of starting a vlog inside the bubble, the Wizards PR team partnered with him to edit his footage and make an appealing end product. Quarantined in those Disney hotels, this gives Brown more time to focus on his game. 

Despite the five straight defeats, Brown and his young teammates are focusing on long-term player growth as opposed to getting frustrated with the results. 

“I would say for me personally, my motivation is just the fact that I want to be a great player,” Brown said. “That’s the only motivation I need...From a team perspective, we’re really young and we have a lot of guys that just want to be great players. We know the odds are against us, but at the end of the day we want to prove people wrong.”

Whether it’s playing as a pass-first point guard or at the three, coach Scott Brooks is using their time in Orlando to figure out how to best utilize Brown’s skillset to win next year. Brown said veteran leaders like Mahinmi and Ish Smith have helped the younger guys focus on continued improvement in that respect. 

Starting the year off as a 3-and-D small forward, Brown’s role has evolved into a playmaker in recent weeks. Hughes gave Brown some advice on how to keep that going. 

“I would just encourage you to not hesitate, and don’t overthink the situation or play,” said Hughes. “Your talent is what the team needs, so now it’s time to hone in on that skill of figuring out how to play with Brad and John even though you like to handle the ball.”

Hughes, a former first-team All-Defensive member in 2005 when he finished the season leading the league in steals as a Wizard, told Brown that his defense will help him fit in with the likes of Wall and Beal next season. After a solid defensive possession, Hughes said if he’s able to get the rebound then he should continue to have that license to push the tempo. 

RELATED: Brown’s role as a playmaker doesn’t have to change when Wall returns

Sporting a stat line consisting of 10.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 2.5 APG, Brown has shown repeated growth all throughout the season. Often asked to cover the opposition’s best player, Brown doesn’t limit his growth to the lines on the court.  

As Brown continues to document the end of the Wizards season in Orlando, he - along with his teammates - continues to get more likable. 

“It’s one of those things that nobody knows who I am as a person. They just know Troy Brown the basketball player, they don’t know me as a person and how I act,” Brown said. “This vlog was a way to show everybody that I’m more than a basketball player. People think of us as these commodities, but we’re regular people just like everyone else.”

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Damian Lillard and Paul George trade jabs on social media after Blazers-Clippers

Damian Lillard and Paul George trade jabs on social media after Blazers-Clippers

It's well documented that two of the NBA's biggest stars, Damian Lillard and Paul George, are not the best of friends.

Last May, Lillard's Blazers eliminated George's Thunder in five games, with the Portland star hitting a 37-foot game-winner over George to win the series. After Lillard hit the shot, he waved goodbye to the Oklahoma City bench as his teammates mobbed him in celebration. Following the game, George called Lillard's bucket a "bad shot." Lillard balked at that claim, asking how it was a bad shot if the ball went in.  

Nearly 15 months later, Lillard and George's beef has returned. On Saturday, Lillard had the opportunity to give Portland the lead over George's Clippers with just 15 seconds remaining. However, with the Blazers down just one, Lillard missed both free throws. Los Angeles would hold on and win, with both George and Clippers guard Patrick Beverley mocking Lillard from the bench.

After the game, Lillard was asked about Beverly and co.'s antics, and the Blazers star had quite the response.

"Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who, I sent him home before at the end of the game," Lillard said. "Paul George just got sent home by me last year. So, they know."

Bleacher Report reposted Lillard's quote on Instagram, which got both Beverley and George to respond. Beverley joked "Cancun on three," referencing that Portland's season would be over soon. George directly responded to Lillard's comment about sending him home, saying "And you getting sent home this year. Respect."

Of course, Dame wasn't going to let either one of them get the last word. Lillard responded to George's comment, calling out the star for continuing to change teams.

George, of course, asked to be traded to the Clippers this offseason to pair with star Kawhi Leonard just one summer after signing a long-term extension with the Thunder. Meanwhile, Lillard has spent his whole career thus far in Portland, turning the Blazers from an annual lottery team to a contender in the West.

George responded once more, saying he achieved more success with his first team, the Pacers, than Lillard has in Portland. That can be debated, but neither star has led their team any further than the conference finals.

The whole conversation was captured by many and has been reposted all over social media.

The two teams won't meet again this season unless they matchup down the road in the playoffs. The Clippers currently sit in the No. 2 spot in the West, while Portland is on the outside looking in on the playoff picture.

However, the Blazers have looked as good as any team in the bubble thus far, in large part due to the return of big men Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. In a year where seeding doesn't really matter, there's always a chance these two teams play each other once again. And what a sight that will be if it happens.

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