Friday, August 29, 2008

SwaggerJack: Gil Arenas - The Lost Interview

Holly MacKenzie is a contributing writer for SLAM and Hardwood Paroxysm. Her SwaggerJack column runs every Friday on Hardwood Paroxysm. Today's subject is an interview, kind of, with Gilbert Arenas, that serves not only as a reminder of how dynamic a personality Agent Zero is, but also of the importance of double checking your recording equipment. Yikes.

A Few Reasons Why I Love Gilbert Arenas

-He is only himself and unapologetically so.

-He remains humble while also being extremely confident.

-He gives back to his fans and sincerely appreciates them.

-He recognizes that as much as we love it, it really is just a game.

-He is all heart.

When I first started this column I told Matt I wanted it to be a space that reflected my love for the game and I wanted to start things off with two of my favorites. Those favorites would be Rod Benson and Gilbert Arenas—the All-Star bloggers of the NBA and D-League. While I easily set up a lengthy interview with Mr. Benson, I had to work just a little harder to track down Mr. Arenas. In the end, I was able to speak with him thanks to the Wizards fantastic PR people.

It was all arranged for me to call the Wizards training facility where I would be put through to Gil after he finished a workout session. While I had a set of questions prepared (and pre-approved), about being the bloggingest NBA player, the conversation was hijacked early and often by Arenas. Everything you read in the blog and laugh over on Youtube is true; the guy has such a wild personality and a broad range of interests. Blogging and basketball were hurriedly shifted to the back burner while we discussed Penny, Britney and wealth and happiness, among other things.

After the interview was finally over, I settled in to begin the dreaded transcription process. For anyone who has never done this before, it can only be described as painful. Taking a 40-minute interview and typing it out word for word—especially when you talk as fast, or laugh as much as I do—is not fun. But, it's got to be done, so I usually try my best to dive in immediately when I'm still glowing from the info I've gotten.

Sitting down, recorder in hand, laptop on lap, a breakdown is about to take place. When I unhook the recorder from the telephone and press play I cringe as I always do upon hearing my own voice, smile when I hear Gil's laidback "What's up"—and then my heart jumps into my throat and my stomach drops onto the floor when the recorder stops. I fiddle around with it a bit, to no avail. Get some new batteries and its still the same story. 0:32 seconds of my 40+ minutes with Gilbert Arenas is all that the recorder captured. Sh*t. Damn. Motherf*cker. That wasn't D'Angelo playing. I wasn't playing either.

After a mini Russell Crowe/Naomi Campbell moment with the now-defunct recorder taking the place of a telephone, I stressed, worried and yes, shed a few tears. Called, texted and emailed pretty much every person I knew from SLAM asking what the hell I was supposed to do next. My panic only increased when everyone told me variations of the same thing: There really isn't anything you can do. Even if you reschedule, you won't get the same interview back. Ever.

That was one of the darker days of my young career. I've since purchased a shiny, new recorder that promises to work for at least a year. I've also calmed down considerably after hearing that every journalist will have to deal with slip-ups. I've decided I'm thankful mine was over the phone as opposed to falling flat on my face in a locker room or something. As it is always said, it could be worse.

As it is, it wasn’t a total loss. While I don't have a recording/transcript, I did scribble down notes and then immediately after my recorder-throwing tantrum, I sat down and furiously unloaded everything that was fresh in my mind.

First up, after keeping his blog for the last few seasons, Gilbert was quick to say that the best part of the experience was grabbing the attention of fans that didn't necessarily follow basketball or the NBA before stumbling upon him. After reading his blog, they'd decide to watch a game and they would come back. "Videogamers don't know about basketball, but they see me blogging on their sites so they start watching, they start picking teams."

Gil was also adamant that there was no negative for him as a result of having the blog and said that he doesn't consider it to be negative at all unless it is hurting animals or people.

He has had "people I would have never thought" reading his blog, including Penny Hardaway, whom he has since met. When asked if it was as big a deal for him to meet Penny as it is for normal fans to meet their favorite NBA players: "I met my hero and I don't put myself on that same level as him."

Fact: He still had all of his childhood posters of Penny Hardaway on his bedroom walls of his father's house before the recent selling.

When I told him he comes across as being authentic both in his blog and whenever we see him in games or interviews, he said he couldn't be any other way. He has always been a joker and he is a happy person. From there we spoke about the fame and wealth that comes along with being a professional athlete and he reminded me that if you were unhappy before you got your big paycheck, there is a good chance you could end up unhappy after you get it and the excitement wears off.

Gil also spoke about how much he hates when people are put into a box and explained that when he rips off his jersey and throws it into the crowd after a game, it is his way of saying thank you for coming out to see me play. And he doesn’t just want to be remembered for his statistical accomplishments: "I want people to be able to say he had fun."

When asked what advice he would give other bloggers, he said they've got to find their niche—and that everyone has one, whether it is positive or negative. He said to be entertaining and that Americans know drama. Giving examples, Gil mentioned NFL player Chris Cooley and, as a result, I've since become a fan and reader of his blog.

We talked about media, where I got to express my own frustrations with the journalists who judged his commitment, questioned his injury and said the team was better without him. He said he doesn't let anything like that bother him. One thing that does get frustrating, however, is when a journalist reads something on a blog or in another column and they just run with it without checking to see if it is valid. Still, he was appreciative of the media overall and acknowledged that they are just doing their job, trying to get info on and from the players.

Somehow the topic of my favorite guy Magic came up, and Gil told me that when he shoots around, he doesn’t tie his shoes, because when you tie your shoes it’s game time. He heard this about Magic a while ago and it’s been his routine ever since.

After I asked him to explain taking and making game-winning shots, his description was so simple it did seem like a no-brainer. He said that after practicing so hard things get to be a routine and taking a shot is like, 3, 2, 1. When it's the end of a game, he just flips his mind back to practice and the pressure drifts away. The other players may be there, but he does not flinch because he's just taking another shot.

Over the course of the conversation, one sentiment that Gilbert repeated time and time again was that he is living his dream, having fun each day and he wants to be able to give that enjoyment and thanks back to all fans of the game. He even gave some of that back to me when he wished me well in my career and then gave a few pointers on members of the media and things to keep in mind as I navigate this sports world.

The best part of talking to Gilbert was talking to Gilbert. He was up for anything I asked, and he often added to my questions, went off on tangents and then turned them back onto me to see what I would say. As exciting he is as a player, he’s an even more exciting and enjoyable person off the court. I wish him nothing but health and success in the future.

Unfortunately, what you just read represents only a fraction of the interview that I had with Mr. Arenas. I hope, if nothing else, this shows that the man is exactly as he comes across in his blogs. He is humble, kind and very engaging. Hopefully in the future I will get to talk with Gil again and be able to bring you the goods in their entirety.

My favorite part of our conversation came just before we finished, when I got to tell Gilbert I've never hated to cheer for someone as much as when he dropped 60 points on my Lakers in L.A. He got a laugh out of that and I got to see that with Gil Arenas, what you see, hear and read, is exactly what you get.

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