Gilbert Arenas, wonder guard of the Washington Wizards, goes by a superhero nickname, Agent Zero, as in the number on his uniform. Here's a more appropriate appellation: Agent Weirdo. Why? This is a guy who at halftime of one game took a shower--fully uniformed--to cool down. He tickles the underarm of a teammate before tip-off for good luck. His addictions are many and, Arenas admits, "pointless," including bad DVDs, vintage jerseys and his latest, crappy basketballs. Arenas is collecting the synthetic balls the NBA unveiled and dumped this season after players complained about cutting their fingers on them. "I hope he never goes to a party where there's cocaine dust in the air," says Drew Cleary, the strength and conditioning coach for the Wizards. "If he ever gets the flavor for it, he's so obsessive-compulsive, that will be the end of his career."
The ones getting high on the addictive Arenas are the denizens of D.C., who can cheer for a team with playoff potential and an MVP-caliber player in the prime of his career. Led by Arenas, the NBA's second leading scorer (at 29.4 points per game) and least conventional superstar, the Wizards (28-19) had the second best record in the admittedly woeful Eastern Conference as of Feb. 6. In Washington, only the Pentagon has a longer-range arsenal than Arenas does. And Arenas may be more accurate. He has scored more than 50 points three times this season, including a 60-point outing against the Lakers in Los Angeles; hit two game-winning three-pointers at the buzzer; and made dozens of acrobatic shots. The ability to hit long bombs or flash to the basket makes Arenas a nightmare to cover. "He's storybook," says former NBA guard and current TNT broadcaster Kenny Smith, of Arenas.
It's a hard-knock story. To reach an élite level, Arenas has fought through personal and professional rejections, most recently his exclusion from the Team U.S.A. roster that played (below expectations) in the World Championship last summer. It's an omission that befuddles Smith: "He's doing things only the greatest players in the league have done."
And enjoying every minute of it, which in today's image-driven sports world is also, sadly, somewhat strange. "NBA players are so scared of being viewed in a certain way that they can't be who they want to be," Arenas says. "They put on a mask." Arenas takes it off--just for fun. During the home opener this season, he wore a satin boxing robe for pregame introductions. He reaches out to struggling kids on MySpace and has sponsored a video-game team.
Gilbertology offers many unusual tenets, among them: 1) Thin the air in your house with a special air conditioner to mimic living at a high altitude, so that when you're at low altitude--say, on a basketball court in Washington--you can breathe easily. 2) Hold extra practice sessions at midnight. 3) Pull pranks on fellow players and dare them to retaliate. "Don't play with a guy who doesn't have a conscience about things," Arenas warns. During a road trip, Arenas filled teammate Andray Blatche's hotel bathtub with coffee. And 4) dream of a post-playing career in advertising. He has strange ideas for commercials for his shoe company, Adidas, whose tagline is "Impossible is nothing."