Winderman: Blame the NBA for Agent Zero’s actions

The NBA helped foster Gilbert Arenas' quirkiness then scolded him for responding to his situation with humor

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Gilbert Arenas was just being the Gilbert Arenas the NBA has built up all these years.

    The weapons are the only smoking guns needed.

    That should have Gilbert Arenas out of the league for a long, long time, no further reasoning required.

    But it's the second part of this sordid equation, the indignation over the Washington Wizards guard trying to temper the situation through his own unique brand of humor, that smacks of the highest level of hypocrisy.

    It is the NBA that created Agent Zero, fostered his quirkiness and off-kilter approach away from the game.

    When Arenas was selling tickets at the Verizon Center and driving readership at the NBA's Web site through his distinctively odd blog, the league couldn't get enough of him.

    Gilbert being Gilbert? The league's message: Don't stop.

    And when Arenas did try to stop, cutting off the media earlier this season, he was fined $25,000.

    Talk about mixed messages: Be quirky, eccentric, downright weird. But make sure we can cash in.

    Then comes a regrettable lapse in judgment, one in which no one gets hurt, no shots are fired.

    David Stern protecting the league's image? No issue there. Guns kill ratings, after all.

    But then the Wizards come out with this:

    "We fully endorse the decision of the NBA to indefinitely suspend Gilbert Arenas. Strictly legal issues aside, Gilbert’s recent behavior and statements, including his actions and statements last night in Philadelphia, are unacceptable. Some of our other players appeared to find Gilbert’s behavior in Philadelphia amusing. This is also unacceptable. Under Abe Pollin's leadership, our organization never tolerated such behavior, and we have no intention of ever doing so."

    But they did. The Wizards so accepted Arenas' quirkiness that they rewarded it with a $111 million contract. They celebrated Agent Zero.

    Again, if David Stern goes Roger Goodell on Arenas, fine. In this era of the strong-arm commissioner, the consequences of any public-relationships misstep are magnified.

    But, unlike with Plaxico Burress of the NFL, the trigger never was pulled. As best as has been unearthed, no one ever was in dire danger. This was not a crowded nightclub.

    Of course, there are other issues at play. Arenas has been inefficient, ineffective and incapable of leading the Wizards back from the bottom of the standings.

    Was what Kobe Bryant involved with in Colorado any less damaging to the league at that stage?

    Yet the Lakers stood by Kobe. Of course, Bryant was, and remains, the face of that franchise.

    The hope had been that Arenas would reemerge from his knee problems as the face of the Wizards.

    Question: If the Wizards were 21-11 instead of 11-21, would team president Ernie Grunfeld have been as quick to put his signature on that team statement?

    In this era of pregame pyrotechnics and lavish introductions, Arena's air-gun display Tuesday night in Philadelphia certainly was over the top.

    But this isn't the No Fun League. Such shenanigans long have not only been tolerated, but all but encouraged. Michael Jordan's powder becoming LeBron James' smoke becoming Shaquille O'Neal's bowling down of teammates.

    And if the line is supposed to be drawn at good taste, then pass the memo along to the marketing types who program some of those in-arena antics during timeouts. The entire atmosphere of the NBA fosters such can-you-top-this silliness.

    Until Gilbert went Gilbert before Tuesday's game, and until he made his comments belittling the situation afterward, Stern and the rest of the NBA appeared more than willing to allow the legal system to run its course.

    Granted, there have been revelations in the hours since.

    But among Stern's reasoning for an immediate suspension was that Arenas' "ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game."

    Not the conduct of having firearms in his locker. Not the possible threat against a teammate.

    But for acting like the very fool that the league for years has promoted as Gilbert being Gilbert.

    For its part, the union said, "At the conclusion of these investigations we will determine the appropriate action to take on Gilbert’s behalf."

    But action can be taken sooner.

    Players can be told to no longer act the fool, no longer play into the entertainment aspect the league so strenuously promotes. 

    The league embraced Twitter. So Arenas tweeted.

    But he tweeted too much, in a tweet tone the league deemed unworthy of 140 characters or less.

    One day, Gilbert Arenas will return to the NBA. Hopefully, he'll return a bit wiser and a bit more prudent in his decisions.

    But Agent Zero is gone.

    Not because a gun ever was discharged. But because the league stopped laughing when it realized it had become the punch line.

     

    Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.