Home > Essays > Essay: The Mysteries Of Revivification (Wait, What?)

Essay: The Mysteries Of Revivification (Wait, What?)

Yesterday morning, I received the February Esquire in the mail (props to Mr. Postman for drudging through our ninth blizzard in the past 72 hours). As the magazine loves to do every so often, this month’s edition had a special, catchy, slightly cliche title to it: The Fresh Start Issue.  On page 22, an editor explains what, exactly, this title means, and why he’s chosen this theme as an acceptable one for readers to plunge through as they sit in waiting rooms, Boeing 757’s, or, in my case, on a comfortable chair in a quiet living room.

We tend to think of people and things as being fixed and permanent. As much as we laud reinvention, our instinct is to see things as they are and imagine that they have been and always will be that way. But internally, individually, that’s not the case.

-Esquire Editor in Chief David Granger

This passage, as some general assertions tend to do, brought my mind back to basketball.  Players who through the first half of the 2010-11 season have morphed from one thing into another, whether it be for better or for worse, are what make the NBA such an incredibly intriguing league.  In sports, expectation is almost always preeminent when discussing performance—if people figured the probability of Mike Vick leading his team to the playoffs, dazzling spectators like he was once again 25, and becoming a respected pocket passer was high, all of his MVP talk would be laughable.

Russell Westbrook’s emergence alongside Kevin Durant; Kevin Love’s transformation into a prodigious rebounding machine; Eric Gordon becoming as talented a scorer as he was at Indiana, Amare Stoudemire putting the city of New York on his back sans Steve Nash; Wesley Matthews making Portland GM Rich Cho look like a mastermind; or Michael Beasley, before his ankle troubles, becoming one of the league’s most effortless scorers. These players are too young for reinvention. What you’re seeing in them was unforeseen by most, but in the end remains a simple case of potential mixed with desire equalling development.

To modify yourself as a basketball player, the most important thing you need is a past. A history, a reputation.  Reinvention occur with old-timers who are adjusting to their inevitable fade into the sunset.  Tracy McGrady, a player who once did this, is playing a token point guard role for the Pistons in part so Joe Dumars can put Rodney Stuckey on display for the league’s other general managers to analyze. In Boston, there’s a rejuvenated, reanimated, refreshed, and reawakened Shaquille O’Neal—he looked washed up, hidden, and dejected last year in Cleveland—who is now once again popping up all over the public’s radar. However this time around he’s making the league minimum and for the first time in his career will cede his place as a starter to another center.  Shaq has taken things in stride this season, been a man about his business and a professional with his role, performing spectacularly in some instances. But not every story is written with as sure an ending as McGrady and Shaq’s seem to be.

The most fascinating individual case of reinvention this season, from Washington to Orlando, is owned by Gilbert Arenas. Over the past 30 days, he’s been relegated to just 20 minutes of play per game (although apparently that isn’t his fault) and it’s looking like a sad, relatively quick downfall could be in the cards.

So how did he get here? In 2008 he had major surgery on his left knee for the third time in two years. Arenas missed quite a chunk of his prime, and it possibly effected him psychologically. Actually, he’s a human being so let’s exchange “possibly” with “definitely”. What I suspect also to have somewhat of a psychosomatic effect on Gilbert was the six-year, $111 million dollar contract extension that Washington gave him that same year.

“It’s a relief. It was a burden at the same time. Your whole city is depending on you,” he told The Washington Times. (This season he’s making more money than LeBron James, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, and new teammate, Dwight Howard.) It wasn’t wise at the time, and looking back it was clearly one of the more foolish decisions any owner has signed off on in the past 10 years—Arenas played in only 56 games for the Wizards after the extension was signed. To be fair, during the 2006-07 season an argument could be made that Gilbert was among the league’s most valuable players, so to say he was a bust wouldn’t be accurate. The money and the injuries indirectly weave themselves towards the locker room firearm drama and lengthy suspension; the stigmatic remnants of which still hang high above his head.

To watch Gilbert—more showman than franchise player—struggle so terribly to mesh within the frame of a contender is both tragic and predictable.  Few players needed a change of scenery more than Gilbert Arenas; a few weeks ago, a golden ticket out of town fluttered through his bedroom window and softly landed on his pillow.  But instead of capitalizing, Arenas has been unable to alter who he is on the basketball court. Who knows if he’ll be able to recapture the flair that made him one of the sports great entertainers. Right now, he’s backing up a player who will never see the personal success Gilbert witnessed. A player incapable of taking over a game the way Arenas once could just four years ago.

What if the Magic lose seven straight games and SVG decides to transform his starting lineup? What if Gilbert finds the ball in his hands with the clock winding down and his team down two?  What if he’s able to taste, if only for a night, the magic touch that’s quickly fleeting from his memory? What if Gilbert Arenas, at just 29 years of age, is able to reinvent himself by becoming what he once was?



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