The ’04/05 NBA season was only the fourth of Gilbert Arenas’s professional career. It was his second with the Washington Wizards, and his first as an All-Star. In 2003, as a member of the Golden State Warriors, Arenas had been named the league’s Most Improved Player, but it wasn’t until his time with the Wizards that he rose to superstardom. Starting in ’04/05, Arenas averaged more than 25 PPG for three consecutive seasons. His underdog story and eccentric personality made him one of the most popular figures in the league, leading to numerous endorsement deals, video game covers, and signature shoes. Having achieved All-NBA status in leading the Wizards back to the postseason for the first time since the ’90s, “Agent Zero” was on top of the basketball world. On December 17th, 2006, he set an NBA record by scoring 16 points in overtime alone during a win over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Arenas scored 60 points in that game, making him one of just 20 players ever to do so. Remarkably, his career night represents just one of two 50-point performances he put on that month. Yet to celebrate his 25th birthday, it appeared as though Gilbert Arenas was well on his way to becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the game’s history. Unfortunately, as Jay-Z might put it, Gilbert’s reign on top was shorter than leprechauns. He suffered an ACL tear in April of 2007 and has never been the same player since.
The ’04/05 season was Tracy McGrady’s first with the Houston Rockets. As a member of the Orlando Magic, McGrady had been a scoring champion, an All-Star, and a first-team All-NBA performer. However, Orlando finished near the bottom of the league in ’03/04, and the franchise decided they’d be better served by Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley (oops). In Houston, McGrady would be paired with fellow All-Star Yao Ming in hopes of forming one of the most potent front lines in the Western Conference. The duo led their Rockets to a fifth-place finish in ’04/05, but they ultimately fell victim to the Dallas Mavericks after a seven-game first-round battle. Still, the future seemed promising… but little did we know that the two would never again play more than 60 games in the same season. McGrady started to experience back problems in ’05/06, marking the beginning of his steady decline. Knee and shoulder surgeries followed a first-round exit from the ’08 playoffs, and his days as a 20-point scorer were over. As for Yao, he suffered a series of unusual leg and foot injuries that caused him to miss nearly half his games over a five-year period and eventually forced his retirement in the summer of 2011.
Currently, Arenas and McGrady — both of them in their early 30s — reside in China, where they’ll compete as rivals in the Chinese Basketball Association. Yao has returned to China as well, where he owns the Shanghai Sharks, the CBA team Arenas plays for. With the CBA season tipping off in a matter of hours, a sobering reunion is just about set to take place. On Sunday, December 2nd, the trio of former NBA All-Stars figures to be in the same place at the same time for the first time in a long time. Come December 2nd, when McGrady’s Quingdao Eagles are scheduled to pay Gil’s Sharks a visit, it’ll have been nearly six years to the day since Arenas, McGrady, and Yao combined for 107 points at Washington DC’s Verizon Center. A reported audience of 20,173 came out on December 9th, 2006 to watch as the Rockets took a 114-109 victory and swept their season series with the Wizards. Yao, who drew large crowds everywhere he went, led the victors with 38. McGrady dropped 28, and Arenas recorded a game high of 41. Check out the box score here, and observe the highlights below (unfortunately, Gilbert’s baskets are not included).
Of the ten players who started this game, five remain in the league. The three best? Gone, and most likely forever. That’s despite the fact that not a single one of them is as old as the NBA’s current leading scorer, or his teammate Antawn Jamison, who represents one of those five remaining players.
This post was supposed to be a simple blurb about a video in which Gilbert Arenas throws down a windmill jam against Tracy McGrady’s Rockets. Then, as I began to put the pieces together, I realized the significance of this upcoming Chinese basketball game. Being that it’s the day after Thanksgiving (well, it was when I started), I thought it’d be appropriate to bring up three of the most tragic stories in modern basketball history. Sometimes I feel as though we assume every superstar will hold up like Kobe Bryant, yet so many don’t. This fact is evidenced by the upcoming presence of three early-thirty-somethings, each of whom appeared well on his way to Springfield, at a Chinese basketball game. Yao Ming will likely become a Hall Of Famer on account of his impact on the sport, and Tracy McGrady will receive consideration, but that’s all beside the point. Oh, right, the point: appreciate the present while you can. Some great things won’t last nearly as long as they should.