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(This story, I should point out, is brought to you by anyone who thinks Team Wiz is better off without Gilbert. Win-loss record aside, no team is better off without Gilbert.)
(Also, is any NBA team more in touch with suburban teenagers? Recall, Gil sponsors video-gamers, Caron shows up unannounced for random birthday parties, and also this.)
So anyhow, Gilbert and Garrett had met back in the Spring of '06, in much the same way any NBA all-star and suburban high school junior meet nowadays: on the Internet. Garrett, a longtime Wiz fan from Montgomery County, had come across a mention of Gilbert's Black President MySpace page. Like all of us Wiz Web aficionados, he saw the private pics of Gilbert with his daughter and friends and figured, huh, maybe this is really him.
So Garrett created a MySpace account, and messaged Gilbert, and Gilbert wrote back, and they began a correspondence about the usual stuff--Gil's charity work, the NBA playoff series Gil was currently waging with LeBron James and the Cavs, etc.
Eventually, Garrett--still not convinced that his new electronic friend was actually Gibert Arenas--asked whether they might meet in person. Gil said sure, and directed Garrett to come down to the Verizon Center for one of his summer workouts in '06.
Action shot, from Comcast SportsyNet via Wizznutzz.
"I was like, 'Ok, it's either a security guard pranking me, or it's actually him,' " Garrett recalls thinking. "If he said, 'Meet me on a street corner,' I wasn't gonna do it."
So, as instructed, Garrett went to the arena's security office and said he was there to meet Gilbert.
"They didn't believe me," he said. "The people at security had no idea. I was kind of weirded out."
So Garrett went home, and messaged Gilbert what had happened. Gilbert said he would get it worked out, and two days later Garrett tried again. This time he was escorted down to the practice court, where the all-star guard was shooting around.
"He was like, 'I'm Gilbert,' " Garrett told me. "It was like, 'obviously.' "
Garrett stayed for a bit, and they played video games in the players lounge, and Gilbert gave him a basketball and his new Gil Zeros--before they had been released--and that was that, since Gil had to leave for a game that night at Barry Farms.
"It was just unbelievable, kind of," Garrett said. "I mean, he's an NBA all-star, and all of the sudden I'm sitting in the players lounge talking to him. That was kind of weird. I was star struck, but at the same time, it was like talking to a friend."
So later in the summer they traded messages about Gil's experience at Team USA tryouts, and eventually Garrett got around to asking whether he might get a job as a Wiz ballboy. One day Gil wrote back to say that he had set it all up, telling Garrett to "just come down whenever," and Garrett asked for more details, which is why Gil wound up calling Garrett at school.
They talked later that night, and Garrett skipped school the next day to interview with the team, and he got the job and worked for the Wiz all last season--his senior year at Good Counsel.
His parents grew to love the Wizards, watching many of their games during dinner, and Garrett of course met all the players and got all the freebies he could want--"I've got a closet just full of shoes, I don't really know what I'm going to do with them," he said. But he doesn't really ask Gilbert for swag or autographs or anything.
"The first time I asked him for his autograph he was like, 'Why do you want this, you know me?' " Garrett said. "After that I was kind of like, 'Yeah, that's true.' "
I asked what his friends at Good Counsel thought about all this.
"I mean, they thought it was crazy," Garrett said. "It is."
Then this summer Gil needed help with his rehab, so Garrett wound up going to the arena dozens and dozens of times this summer, sometimes twice a day, shagging balls during shooting drills and running bleachers in the 400 level with Gilbert and strength coach Drew Cleary, and also helping out Andray Blatche and Roger Mason and Donell Taylor. When the Pan-American team came to town, Wiz VP Tommy Sheppard introduced Garrett to Villanova Coach Jay Wright and his staff, since Garrett was going to 'Nova.
During his first few weeks away at school, Gilbert called a couple times, just to make sure he was adjusting ok. Thanks to that introduction from Sheppard, he got a job in the Wildcats' basketball office, and some of the 'Nova players really like Gilbert, so Garrett took them to a preseason game in Philly and helped Antonio Pena score a Gilbert jersey. And Gilbert recently called, wanting Garrett to help him as he starts working on his jumper again, but Garrett couldn't make it because he's back at school.
I asked whether it didn't seem weird, that he's sort of friends with Gilbert Arenas, whom he met through MySpace as a high school junior.
"That's just his personality," Garrett said. "Obviously I'm just a little blip on his screen, he's got so many people in his life, but it's crazy how he takes time out to make sure I'm doing all right....I don't need to be some NBA superstar or a groupie. Some players have a lot of 'friends' that come to games; he's got one guy and that's about it. He's kind of a normal guy. Although he makes millions of dollars."