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A lot better than nothing

Gilbert Arenas may be `0' in your program but he puts up big numbers for Wizards, while driving everyone a little crazy

March 24, 2007|Mark Heisler | Times Staff Writer

Now it's Agent Zero, superstar.

Agent Zero started out as Gilbert Arenas' private joke, the number he chose for the number of minutes he was supposed to play as an unheralded last-minute recruit at Arizona.

Try as he might to recreate that time, it's over. Now everyone knows the joke, which serves as the theme of Arenas' new Adidas commercials.

After a lifetime of flying loop-the-loops under the radar, the Washington Wizards guard suddenly has all the fame and recognition he dreamed of ... raising the question of what to do now.

Yearning got him here. Little noticed at Grant High in Van Nuys, snubbed by UCLA -- just the start of a string of insults as long as his memory -- he hasn't stopped competing for attention or whatever was at hand since.

He has bet automobiles on the outcome of video games with friends. He recently took $20,000 off teammate DeShawn Stevenson in a shooting contest.

Being Gilbert, he didn't exactly keep it a secret. Complete details can be found on his NBA.com blog.

"What comes out of his mouth, some people take it the wrong way, but he's a big kid," said his father, Gilbert Sr., during All-Star weekend, watching his son at the media session.

"He loves to have fun. He's in competition with LeBron James right now. If you look at his table and LeBron's table, he's trying to get the biggest crowd. ...

"He's winning right now by about two people," Gilbert Sr. said, laughing.

James, the most hyped young player ever, was the one seated with stern bodyguards at each elbow. Arenas was the one standing among the media people, having a great time.

The weekend being about showmanship, James had no chance. Arenas, the new hottie, had his face plastered 20 stories high on the side of hotels by Adidas, with LeBron's nowhere to be seen.

James seemed to set out to recoup by winning the MVP, but his East team lost by 20 and the award went to Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile, Arenas joined the Flying Elvi, a troupe of Elvis look-alikes dunking off a trampoline. Happily for all concerned, he didn't trip and end the Wizards' season.

"Yeah, I think Eddie [Jordan, Wizards coach] saw it and I didn't think he was happy," said Arenas. "Oh, you know how coaches are."

Jordan just signed an extension for $4 million annually and earns every penny every day.

Fast lane speeds up

If superstardom is a test of who can handle stardom, it's a special challenge for someone who came as far as fast as Arenas did.

The little boy whose mother abandoned him, who slept in the car with his father when they moved to the San Fernando Valley, is now 25, a three-time All-Star, making $11.1 million a year.

Big-hearted and spectacularly uninhibited, he announced his arrival with his recent $1-million birthday bash. Fortunately for Arenas, he didn't have to pick up the tab or do anything but show up.

Hosted by a Washington, D.C., club owner, it had sponsors (a vitamin water and a tattoo designer) and a website (arenasexpress.com) where dress was announced as "Super-Duper Fly. Absolutely no jeans, no sneakers, no boots, no throwback jerseys, no Timbs [Timberland boots], no hats."

Stories about the party ran in the local press for days before and after. The 7,000 guests had to show their invitations -- plastic "Arenas Express" credit cards with the attendees' names embossed on them -- which sponsors said cost $40,000.

"I had to get a special invitation because I was late," said Gilbert Sr., who flew in from the West Coast.

"He told me, 'Dad, if you're coming to the party, you're not going to get in.' I thought he was kidding. He said, 'No, Dad, I'm serious, you won't be able to get into the party.' "

The Washington Post said "vast sectors" of two Ritz-Carltons were reserved. The bedding had an "Agent Zero" monogram, as did the sofa in Gilbert Jr.'s suite. Said a hotel spokesman, "He's not too fond of beds and prefers to snooze on the couch."

Guests included Diddy, Lil Wayne, Donovan McNabb and Clinton Portis, although as far as anyone knows Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx and the Pussycat Dolls didn't make it.

There were also the women supposedly wearing only thongs and body paint. Two days later, a Post story headlined "Your Questions Answered About Gilbert Arenas's 25th Birthday Party" reported, "We're told they may have been wearing some kind of body stocking. But they sure looked naked."

"Gilbert did nothing for his 23rd and 24th birthdays," a representative told the Post. "... This is as much a coming-out party for Gilbert as anything."

A loner who usually avoids clubs, Arenas spent most of his time with friends in the fourth-floor VIP lounge.

Coincidentally or not, he shot 23 for 74 the next four games and the Wizards lost three of them.

Said a friend who attended: "Someone from the Wizards told me, 'Luckily, Gilbert only throws a party once a year.' "

Gilbertology 101

"He's as fast as a young [Allen] Iverson but he's my size."

-- Detroit guard

Chauncey Billups

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