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Gilbert Among the Video Gamers

As you all know, MLG Meadowlands is this weekend, a Halo 2 event featuring top-seeded Final Boss in the four vs. four pro tournament. Final Boss, as you all know, is the gaming team sponsored by Gilbert Arenas, which is why he'll be heading to New Jersey after his Hoops for the Homeless appearance on Saturday. And Gilbert is feeling confident about his team.


Gilbert, the Phil Jackson of Halo 2. (By Jonathan Newton - TWP)

"Ain't too much coaching," he told me today. "When you've got the '96 Bulls, I don't think you need to coach them. I've got a dynasty."

Gilbert told me his team has been practicing 15 hours a day. His captain, Dave Walsh aka Walshy, said it was closer to eight hours a day for the past several weeks. Walshy also wasn't feeling quite as boastful as his much blogged-about sponsor, despite the team's No. 1 seeding.

"We kind of had that attitude last year, and we started losing at the end of last year," Walshy told me. "We're going into this tournament thinking worst-case scenario and practicing as much as possible. We're going in more level-headed. We'll let [Gilbert] talk the trash for us."

As Walshy hinted, it's been a tumultuous few months for Final Boss. The team earned three consecutive runner-ups finishes to close last year, with all three losses coming against arch-nemesis Carbon. Shortly after the season ended, Final Boss decided to cut ties with Saiyan, one of its longtime players. And, in a dramatic twist, they replaced him with StrongSide, aka 18-year-old Michael Cavanaugh, who had been dropped from Carbon before its successful late-season run. Naturally, team captain Walshy consulted with Gilbert before pulling the trigger. Gilbert told him to follow his heart.

"I was like, 'Do you think he'll make the team better?'" Gilbert recalled. "He said, 'We think he'll make the team a lot better.' I was like, 'If you're happy with it, I'm happy with it'."

And so the change was made. StrongSide was one of the country's best one-on-one players, but needed some help fitting into the team environment; " We felt like he had enough skill; we just had to mold him a bit, teach him about the game," Walshy told me. Sure enough, after a few months of practice, Final Boss earned the championship at the first Major League Gaming tournament of the year, in Charlotte. Gilbert texted his congratulations after the win.

"Now it's vacation time, pick your place," the text message read.

"He said he'd pay for us all to take vacation wherever we want to go," Walshy told me. "First we suggested Hawaii, but he told us we could probably come up with something better than that. We're still deciding....It was a pretty sweet surprise."

As for this weekend, in the winner's bracket semifinals Final Boss will likely meet fourth-seeded 5K, a team they dominated during a three-day practice session last week. Final Boss also handled third-seeded The Agency during a recent practice session in Detroit. Carbon is, of course, the second seed, and that's the matchup everyone wants to see in the finals.

I asked about Gilbert's game-time demeanor. Gilbert said he talks trash to the other kids. Walshy recalled that at the first tournament Gilbert attended, he kept asking to bring his players bottles of water.

"It was kind of weird," Walshy said. "We were like, 'Um, I don't think you're our water boy,' and he was like 'Hey, trust me, it's ok, I'll be right back,' and he went to get us water."

Gilbert also said he is more a fan than a coach or owner, and that "what they do is amazing." And in a rare serious moment, he tried to be realistic about the results this weekend.

"When you have good guys, and good teamwork with those guys, as long as they're practicing and playing hard, to the best of their abilities, you can't never be mad at that," he told me. "At the end of the day, a lucky kill here or a lucky kill there changes the whole game."

But a few minutes later, he estimated their chances of success at 100 percent.

"Are you crazy?" he said. "We're the '96 Bulls. Unless we all retire, no one's going to beat us."

[Attention NYC-based bloggers. I can't go this weekend. Please, someone, go and blog about this.]

By Dan Steinberg  |  June 7, 2007; 5:20 PM ET
Categories:  Weirdness , Wizards  
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