Gilbert Arenas’ influence on Russell Westbrook, the new NBA generation

WASHINGTON — As fun and electrifying as it was, Gilbert Arenas’ heyday was relatively brief, a glimpse of a career in the Hall of Fame if he had remained healthy. At 25, he was a three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selector, but injuries sapped his speed and he was never quite the same without it.

However, the high point of Arenas was unforgettable, and not just because of the moniker “Agent Zero” and the buzzer beaters. He was an absolute force on offense, at 6-foot-4 with broad shoulders and a remarkable eye for dribbling timing. He was a rare breed at the time, a point guard of this size who could score as quickly as he could. And his emphasis on taking lots of threes from extra long range was ahead of its time.

There are more players in the league these days using a similar style, and Arenas itself has taken notice. On Friday night, during a press conference honoring his tenure with Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, Arenas shared which current players remind him of himself.

“A little lady [Lillard]. Lady, [James] Harden the way he pulls fouls,” Arenas said, then started an opus about how he doesn’t like what umpires are calling the game these days.

Lillard wears the same shirt number (0) as Arenas and is also famous for shooting long three-pointers. Like Lillard, Harden is a great guard, using his strength, quick first step and threat to make threes to regularly drive to the rim.

Arenas likes both games but had a liking for who he would pick to take the last shot when the game is on the line.

“Last second chance, I’d give it to Dame. I would give it to Dame and Luka [Doncic] is a close second,” said Arenas.

Lillard is part of a long-standing legacy for arenas that the No. 0 has been a part of. He wore it as motivation as it represented the number of minutes his critics thought he would play in the NBA. After becoming a superstar, that caught on.

Arenas was one of four players to wear the No. 0 during his rookie year in 2001–02. Today there are 20, including stars like Lillard and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook played for the Wizards in 2020-21 and had worn the number for a long time but chose not to wear it despite technically having the option.

“That’s the greatest honor, players who grew up with the zero, when they come to town, especially like Westbrook,” Arenas said. “Someone like Westbrook when he comes here and says, ‘No, I want to carry four, I won’t carry a zero,’ because on his mind it’s basically retired. I was sitting on my couch when I heard that. how wait what?’ What you’re doing, the triple-doubles, you’re taking that zero and you’re going to put it on a bigger display for the future.”

Kyle Kuzma is another player who previously wore zero before joining the Wizards. He told NBC Sports Washington last year he changed his number to “33” out of respect for Arenas.

Kuzma grew up with Arenas and got to know him over the years.

“Gil is my man, he’s great. He’s a comedian, he’s a great person. He really, really loves the game of basketball. It just goes to show how much he did here for a guy like Russell Westbrook to come here, a Hall of Famer a better player than him, to respectfully say, ‘Hey, you’re Agent Zero,'” Kuzma said.

Kuzma recalls watching Arenas light up the Staples Center for 60 points in 2006 when he faced Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a regular-season classic. Kuzma would love it if the magicians brought back the uniforms that the magicians wore that night, with gold leotards and black shorts.

The Wizards wore retro uniforms Friday night, the same “blue and bronze” arenas popularized.

“Oh man, I asked for it. I love the. I think they must be sick. The ones we have now are by far the best, but that has to come next,” said Kuzma.

With the injuries that derailed his prime, Arenas’ career is left with a number of what-if paths, but his legacy lives on in today’s NBA. Friday night was a reminder of its impact.



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