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Gilbert at the Breakfast Buffet in China

(Image courtesy Irving Liimatta)

After previous fan-composed tales of meeting Gilbert Arenas while he ate by himself at P.F. Chang's in Tysons Corner, and meeting Caron Butler coming out of a movie theater next to the T.G.I. Friday's in Tysons, today's food-based Wizards fan story comes courtesy of 29-year old Irving Liimatta, who also recently ran into Gilbert in a restaurant. In China.

Liimatta works for a high-tech firm based in the Phoenix area, a firm that has a warehouse in Shanghai. He was staying at the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel in Shanghai, doesn't follow the NBA particularly much and didn't know that Gilbert was in the middle of a contract negotiation when he arrived in China. He also had never asked an athlete for an autograph.

But there he was in the Pudong district of Shanghai, sharing an elevator with someone he recognized as Gilbert Arenas.

"On the way up, I tried to play it cool and not let him know that I recognized him," Liimatta wrote to me in an e-mail, "but I eventually said, 'You know I'm going to tell all of my buddies about this.' He laughed and stuck out his hand to shake mine."

Gilbert got off the elevator before Liimatta. But the next morning, a still-jetlagged Liimatta woke up at 5 and went down the gym. "Arenas was also awake, already working out with his trainer," Irving wrote. Liimatta left him alone. But then came their third meeting, at the Shangri-La's amazing breakfast buffet, where both men were there just after the buffet opens at 6:30. And finally, before Gilbert picked out his food, Irving asked for what he said was the first autograph of his life. At which point we learned three things:

1) Gilbert has taken to adorning his autographs with "Agent 0."

2) There would appear to be significantly less competition for athlete autographs at the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel's breakfast buffet than, say, at the AT&T National's practice green.

3) Random Phoenix-area businessmen who travel to Shanghai for work and run into Gilbert Arenas in the elevator are likely to become fans, for no particular reason other than Gilbert's personality. "He was so cool about it," Liimatta wrote of their encounters. "He didn't make me feel like an idiot. He is a credit to your team and to your community."

By Dan Steinberg  |  July 7, 2008; 5:49 PM ET
Categories:  Wizards  
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