Last week, Gilbert Arenas joined Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on their podcast All The Smoke to chat about the modern NBA, Arenas’s “gun situation” (their words, not mine), and for a brief yet eventually consequential moment, Kwame Brown’s tenure on the Washington Wizards.
Arenas joined the Wizards in 2003 for Brown’s third season with the team, one year after the departure of notorious bully Michael Jordan. That decade’s Wizards were famously riven by interpersonal drama; Arenas talked about the odd dynamic of taking over a team with a struggling young player who was just relieved from the pressure of playing with the greatest player of all time.
Jackson began by making a joke about how bad Brown was, to which Arenas responded that Brown actually could have been quite good had he been in a more supportive environment. “Imagine being an 18-year-old kid getting drafted No. 1 by your idol. And your idol is Michael Jordan,” Arenas said (at the 57:22 mark of the video). “We know Michael Jordan. We know Michael Jordan’s personality. Imagine that personality going towards an 18-year-old kid, just bullying him. […] When you’re making him look little to his peers, he loses his confidence. So when I get there, he doesn’t have confidence. So, it’s trying to build this man-child up. You’re talking about just a big country human. I call him a show pony, he’s a show horse. Probably couldn’t race, looks good though.”
Arenas and Brown played two seasons together in Washington, improving from 25-57 to 45-37, a jump that coincided with Brown losing his starting spot. Still, Arenas maintained that Brown really could have been great and would show occasional flashes of brilliance. “It was more the trauma than anything. Even though Jordan left, he still needed a fresh start,” Arenas said. “Once I got there, I don’t got time to be fucking with you. It’s either your team or my team. We both in the same draft, and right now I make more money than you, so technically it’s my team.” Rude, though not over-the-top. Barnes and Jackson didn’t say anything mean about Brown, although both smirked and laughed during the discussion.
Brown was not happy with his name being mentioned. Two days after the podcast dropped, he released a 75-minute video on his YouTube channel “Kwame Brown Bust Life,” in which he smoked a hookah and went after the three players for getting jokes off at his expense. Among many other things, Brown called Arenas a “fake slimeball-ass,” mocked Jackson for faking a calf injury and quitting on the team, and told Barnes, “Go to counseling.” This montage captures the essence of Brown venting his spleen.
Brown kept going, posting a video of himself relaxing at a bar to prove he wasn’t mad, and going on Instagram Live to keep talking shit, mostly about Barnes. “The only joke you got is about basketball. I got a joke about your life, you punk bitch,” he said, repeatedly bringing up Barnes’s fight with former NBA player Derek Fisher.
The next day, Brown hosted another Instagram Live to talk about the night he and teammate Kobe Bryant combined for 82 points on the Lakers, 81 of which Bryant scored (in Brown’s retelling) thanks to “the screens I was setting.”
All of this feels like a decade’s worth of frustration coming out at once over some otherwise forgettable podcast shit-talking, though it’s understandable as to why he’d be very sensitive to becoming a punchline. Brown did fall short of his potential and wind up as a famous bust, but he managed a decade-long NBA career despite a tumultuous childhood and maybe the worst possible environment for a rookie to be drafted. While Brown got really personal in his response, that’s because it was his advantage over Barnes and Jackson. They have TV and podcasting careers to preserve. Brown, who did not pursue that path after basketball, could be as nasty as he wanted.
The two podcasters both responded to Brown with videos of their own. Barnes stressed that he never really said anything about Brown; Jackson more or less told Brown to stop being so sensitive. He also addressed Brown’s jokes about him frequenting strip clubs, saying, “I stayed in the strip club. Everybody know that. […] I had a great time.”
By Tuesday, the disagreement had turned into fodder for the debate shows, so Brown turned his attention to Stephen A. Smith. Smith talked briefly about Brown this week, though he’s used the player as the butt of his jokes for a while, and his 2008 rant about Brown is rather notorious. Brown challenged the ESPN host and his “bald forehead” to “mutual combat” in Seattle, a place that Brown said didn’t require a waiver(?) for a fight.
However, Brown was more gracious towards Fox Sports 1 talking head Skip Bayless, who said he gave Brown a pass for getting so personal in his insults since he has to endure years of derision. “Skip Bayless, thanks for the pass,” Brown said. “I don’t know what the fuck that meant.”