Gilbert Arenas Lived Like a College Student Early in His NBA Career

When NBA fans hear about the Washington Wizards, they think of John Wall and Bradley Beal. There was a time, however, when Gilbert Arenas was the biggest star in D.C., playing for the Wizards during the prime of his career from 2003-2011. Arenas received some big contracts throughout his career, which is why it’s surprising that he was forced to live on the budget of a college student early in his career. Why exactly?

The career of Gilbert Arenas

In 2001, Golden State Warriors drafted Arenas in the second round. The University of Arizona alum expected to go in the first round but fell all the way to 31. When his career was finished, Arenas had amassed some respectable numbers. He never quite lived up to the promise of greatness he was in his prime, but the point guard left a decent mark on the game:

  • 20.7 points per game
  • 5.3 assists per game
  • 42.1% field goal percentage
  • 80.3% free throw percentage
  • Player efficiency rating of 19.6
  • 2002-2003 Most Improved Player Award winner
  • Three-time All-Star 
  • Three-time All-NBA team selection

Arenas had a nice run in Washington (to start, at least). He led them to the playoffs three times but never quite got them into NBA Finals contention. Arenas’ career was marred by an incident in which he brandished a gun in the locker room, leading to a season-long suspension. He was never quite the same after that. 

Arenas’ career earnings

Before his career was over, Arenas earned $163,475,636, according to Spotrac. His biggest contract was a six-year deal with the Wizards worth over $100 million. Though Arenas was an extremely effective player, his deal is widely regarded as one of the worst of all time due to his suspension and subsequent exit from the Wizards. 

While Arenas may have left some figurative money on the table when it comes to his own untapped potential, he made plenty of literal money during his NBA career. That’s why the way he handled money at the beginning of his career is so ironic. 

Why Arenas lived like a college student

According to Yahoo Sports, Arenas fully expected to be a first-round draft pick in 2001. He spent money lavishly in preparation. Once he fell to the second round, his salary was only about $330,000 per season. After many large purchases, Arenas was left with around $400 per month. 

“Imagine trying to be an NBA player for $400 per month,” Arenas said. “Try going on a date in the middle of the month with $100 left. I got gas, I had two dogs and a girlfriend at the time. There was no date night! It was horrible.” Arenas rented a tiny home and pilfered food from the Warriors’ team plane — hardly a common activity among the millionaires that make up most NBA rosters. 

Arenas severely outperformed his contract. After two seasons, he drew attention from around the league. The Wizards signed him as a restricted free agent to an offer sheet worth $8.5 million, which the Warriors could not match, so Arenas was free to get financially comfortable in the nation’s capital. 

Due to his poor financial decisions before draft day, Arenas was forced to seek out a new, big contract. Had he not been so foolish with his money, perhaps he could’ve stayed in Golden State. The end of Arenas’ prime as an NBA player coincided with the team selecting Steph Curry. Within a few seasons, the Warriors were on top of the basketball world. This could have been a different story had Arenas not left for Washington.