The letters in Gilbert's defense
There was a time not too long ago when every other week brought news of another quirky story demonstrating Gilbert Arenas's goodwill toward man. Befriending young area residents on MySpace and turning them into Wizards ballboys. Helping random teenage Wizards fans with their charity fundraising projects, a story told to me by a father that I apparently never used. Sponsoring high-level video game teams, taking the gamers out to restaurants and leaving $100 tips on $70 checks. That sort of thing.
Sure, there was always the understanding that he also had another set of quirks that were less PR friendly, up to and possibly including sneaker defecation. But as Gilbert stopped playing basketball and then became embroiled in the Finga Gunz Fiasco, the good quirky mostly got pushed underneath the bad quirky.
Reading through the letters attached to the sentencing memo filed by his lawyers, though, brought back some of the good. Sure, these were documents submitted by high-priced attorneys attempting to save Arenas from going to jail, but the stories read just like the ones we used to hear about during Gilbert's prime.
There was a single-spaced one-paragraph missive from Jared Levi, a college student in Chicago who used to gather autographs to sell for a profit, helping pay for his college tuition. Levi once gave Gilbert a letter explaining what he was doing, and Gilbert eventually signed more than 100 jerseys and 400 photos for the teenager, while inviting him and his friends to hang out in the team hotel on the road. "Gil single handedly changed my life," Levi wrote.
There was a letter from an AAU team manager in Richmond, whose players had once asked Arenas for support. They received sweatsuits, shoes, uniforms and socks from Arenas, who met and spoke with every player on the team. "I can not express to you what that meant to our boys," she wrote.
There was a note from Goodman League Commissioner and presidential heckler Miles Rawls, who noted how Arenas delivered uniforms and equipment for Rawls's Pop Warner football team "without hesitation."
There was a letter from Mystics star Alana Beard, who wrote how Gilbert paid for weddings for childhood pals "to thank them for their friendship."
There was a message from a Great Falls mother who saw him walking in the neighborhood, asked Gilbert to sign a basketball for a silent auction, and then watched as Arenas "ran off to fetch a pair of new shoes to sign for our event as well."
There was a note from Will Sherlin, the literary agent for Gilbert's canceled autobiography, who described how the book morphed from a parody of self-help books into a self-help book in its own right, "earnest, humorous and endearing."
There was a document from Gilbert's dad, the most wrenching of the bunch. "I think locking him up for any amount of time would destroy him," Gilbert Sr. wrote. "He's very fragile in a lot of ways; he just laughs and smiles to hide the pain."
But especially there was the note from Wizards equipment manager Rob Suller, one of the nicest men in D.C. sports.
Suller has two young children similar in age to Gilbert's; his oldest has a rare genetic condition that requires 24-hour care. In 2007, Suller wrote, Gilbert gave his family his entire portion of the team's playoff bonus to help them buy a minivan to accommodate her special needs. Two years later, Gilbert helped Suller's whole family attend a week-long conference in Florida about her condition, and insisted that everyone involved with her care attend.
"Gilbert has shown caring and compassion beyond what myself and my family could ever thank him enough for," Suller wrote.
What this all means in court on Friday, someone smarter than I has to decide. Prosecutors, of course, submitted a sentencing memo of their own, and it's also a captivating read. Michael Lee sums it up nicely, and there's plenty there that's damning.
But take a few minutes and read those letters in his defense. It'll remind you what we all thought Gilbert's legacy in this town would be.
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