Story time with Gilbert Arenas. It's nearly 11 p.m. and he's lying face down on a massage table in his Dallas hotel room. His lower body is bothering him again. His doctor says he needs to stretch more. His right knee aches, even though it's the left one that crumbled and ruined his Hall of Fame chances. Also, it's his groins—plural. Earlier this summer, playing pro ball for the first time in years, he pulled one and then the other almost immediately. Not the triumphant comeback he was looking for, and yet he's in good spirits, as Arenas tends to be, obliging a question about his NBA rookie salary. His head is smushed against the horseshoe headrest, but that's all right. Arenas is an animated storyteller.
"What had happened was," he begins. The year was 2001, and Arenas was set to enter the NBA after two seasons at the University of Arizona. In his mind, he was a first-round pick; and if a thought exists in Arenas' mind, he usually brings it into the real world. So he borrowed a loan expecting a first-round payday. Then, he says, "I bought my chain, bought my Escalade with the five TVs and the stereo system." The audio equipment alone ran about $60,000. The chain, which bore Arenas' initials, cost another $40,000. Draft night came. Arenas fell to the Warriors at No. 31 in a 30-team league.
"When I went 31," Arenas says, "I got so mad that I threw the chain I bought out the window; gone." Arenas' second-round salary was something like $330,000, which was basically spent by the time he showed up at Golden State. Over his first two years in the league, Arenas' budget was $400 per month.
"Imagine trying to be an NBA player for $400 per month," he says. He rented a small apartment and took as much food as possible from the team plane. "Try going on a date in the middle of the month with $100 left. I got gas, I had two dogs and a girlfriend at the time. There was no date night! It was horrible."
By his third season, everything had changed: Arenas secured a $60 million contract from the Wizards and became Agent Zero, Hibachi. How many players are good enough to carry two distinct nicknames? He was an electric scorer, but more than that, he was a novel point guard. His chief competitor for scoring crowns was Kobe Bryant, who proudly mimicked Michael Jordan. Arenas was more interested in where the league would head next. At 6'4", "they didn't know what to label him, but he changed the game," says Jason Richardson, the 14-year NBA player who was a rookie with Arenas on the 2001-02 Warriors.