For a very brief period, Gilbert Arenas was the NBA's biggest thing. Not a day went by that I didn't get an email from someone telling me about Arenas' next commercial event. There was the debut of his new low-top Adidas shoe at the NBA Store in New York. His big birthday bash in 2007. There was the hectic "live-by-satellite" interview tour that he did at Verizon Center. (I sat and watched that because I thought it'd be interesting. It really wasn't.) There was the four-part mini-film produced by Adidas to kickstart the 2008 season. There was the campaign by VitaminWater to get him voted into the NBA All-Star game.
All that is in the past. And barring a miracle, he'll never get that kind of positive attention again. He's an injury-plagued man on a bad team, who is now in hot water over some immature nonsense involving guns. Place him on a Wheaties box now!
It wouldn't be so bad if he was simply an injury-plagued man on a bad team. But the bad behavior, followed by 24 hours of Twitter insanity the likes of which no one has ever seen, made the whole situation worse.
The good news, in a sense, is that despite all the attention, Gilbert Arenas didn't really have a ton of endorsements. This is not a Tiger Woods-esque fall from grace. People were a little slow to jump on his bandwagon to begin with, and his stint as one of the best players in the NBA was relatively small. As a player, maybe he'll return to form. After all, he's still averaging more than 22 points per game and has shown he can still hit the big shot. But his overall image is tarnished.
Adidas is probably the one company feeling the sting the most. But they never really bet the whole farm on Gilbert.
In fact, Adidas did a smart thing with its "Basketball is a Brotherhood" campaign, which was to assemble a diverse roster of players without placing too much of a focus on one player. If you go to Adidas' basketball page you will see list with names like Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett, but also lower-profile players like Deshawn Stevenson, Jordan Farmar and Kendrick Perkins. Arenas is still there, but he's not front and center.
About two years ago, I wrote about the Adidas campaign in the context of Arenas' knee injury, which kept him out of the Wizards lineup. [Sorry, can't find a link to it] The story featured this quote from Matt Delzell, a client manager with Davie Brown talent, which matches athletes with potential endorsers:
"There's always that risk in devoting all your resources in one guy," he said. "[Adidas] looks smart...They didn't put all their eggs in one basket."
Gilbert Arenas turns 28 today. That's not too old for some sort of image recovery, if he cares about such things. There's a legal process to play out here, and his future with the Wizards is a question mark. He'll be in the public eye, but things are a lot different than they were 18 months ago.