If the NBA, as it is often said, is a league of stars, there should be no shortage of stories coming from the Association this year.

Rookies such as Kevin Durant and Yi Jianlian have already showed glimmers of promise. In Boston, the Celtics’ super-troika of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have more than lived up to the hype, especially after last Sunday’s overtime win in Toronto featuring a Garnett double-double and a Ray Allen game-winning three pointer.

On the other side of the country, Kobe Bryant continues to attract national headlines with his simultaneous sulking and scoring.

Even the New York Knicks, after a tumultuous off season that saw their head coach lose a sexual harassment civil lawsuit, looked re-energized by the arrival of Zach Randolph to Madison Square Garden.

With all the storylines in the NBA this season, it would be tempting to say that no one star could possibly stand out this year – not with Kobe on the verge of a trade or with Kevin Garnett loosing his ferocity on a revived Eastern Conference. Yet such a conclusion would flagrantly ignore the real man to watch this season – Washington’s very own Gilbert Arenas.

Always a favorite in Washington and Golden State for his high-flying, free-wheeling style of play and his eccentricity, Arenas finally entered the mainstream sports scene last year by using his blog on the NBA website to publicly air his loveable weirdness.

When he wasn’t draining buzzer-beaters or making fans’ jaws drop in disbelief with another highlight reel dunk, Arenas would frequently post about, among other things, his quest for revenge against the coaches who had left him off the USA Basketball roster – culminating in his prediction that he would score “84 or 85” points against Duke – and his meditations upon the nature of shark attacks (cribbed from British comedian Ian Edwards).

Yet as the NBA has dragged itself back to the periphery of mainstream interest, Agent Zero has upped the ante again and proved himself the player to watch. Demonstrating the swings that have spurred the creation of Gilbertology – the science of cataloguing Arenas’ whimsical sayings and deeds – Arenas has already issued some pretty brash declarations that demonstrate why the Wizards point guard has become such a fascinating figure.

It’s easy to ignore the latest boasts as simply hot air, especially after Arenas’ promise to defeat the Celtics in Boston’s season opener rang hollow. Yet his guarantee to be a leading MVP candidate this season could prove to be portentous and momentous for Arenas who is averaging 21.7 points per game in three games this season, including 34 points last Tuesday against Indiana. He averaged 28.4 points per game last season before tearing his ACL with 12 games left in the season. In a fairly weak Southeast division, Arenas and teammates Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison have a strong chance at 50 wins.

Should that happen, you can bet the farm that Arenas will complete his transition from cult figure to folk hero of the NBA. In the post-Jordan era, the NBA has constantly sought its next legend to no avail. Kobe Bryant? Too whiny. Shaq? Too much feuding with Kobe. Tim Duncan? Please, a legend has to have a personality.

So why not Gilbert? Hoping to move beyond the Donaghy scandal and the fiasco that was the 2006-2007 season, the NBA needs Gilbert Arenas. Worried about players becoming alienated from fans? Arenas tosses his jersey into the crowd after every single game, giving one lucky fan a valuable and incredibly sweaty, souvenir. Concerned about too many players visiting strip clubs with violent posses and perpetrating the myth of the NBA’s predilection for the “thug” life? Agent Zero reportedly routinely eschews nights out during road trips to – get this – watch infomercials.

Combine Arenas’ simple, almost childlike lifestyle with his unpredictable goofiness and wildly entertaining style of play, and you have yourself a bona fide folk hero – a grinning Paul Bunyan roaming from coast to coast, throwing down spectacular dunks and playing games of online poker at halftime (yes, he did that, too). Certainly other stars are more talented, and nobody in their right mind expects a Wizards championship anytime soon. Yet in many ways, this makes Gilbert more lovable. Gilbert’s allure comes not from raw talent but from his unique combination of the brilliant and the bizarre. Unlike, say, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, nobody cares if Arenas falls short in the playoffs, so long as the dunks keep coming and the blog posts become increasingly random, eccentric and entertaining.

It’s almost too good to be true – a goofy rising star with no dark secrets. So as the saga of Kobe Bryant plays out, as Kevin Durant begins to tap into his considerable potential and as Boston’s three-headed monster desperately hunts for a 17th Celtics championship, don’t forget about the hopeful rise of Gilbert Arenas.

Gilbert, let this be your special season. The NBA deserves it.

Brendan Roach is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at roachthehoya.com. THE LOSING STREAK appears every other Tuesday in HOYA SPORTS.

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