In a recent playoff game against the Phoenix Suns, Ron Artest missed two ill advised shots, yet subsequently, made the game winner. When questioned about it after the game, his first response was, 'I have to be me.' As the image and likeness of God (Gen, 1:26,27), he is exactly right.
To get perspective on Ron Artest, the first thing to know is that he majored in mathematics at St. Johns University. This is someone that knows calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations intimately. So already, 95% of the population has no concept of his educational knowledge base. Here is a kid that was exposed to calculus in high school, while witnessing a murder on the basketball court during a pick up game. So, whatever perception that the media projects, is just that. A perception. And a perception is an opinion. It is not necessarily the truth.
Artest is a complex individual that goes by the name “Ron Ron.” Not exactly a name that, on the surface, would make a person quake in the boots as the media perception would suggest. He married his high school sweetheart from Queens and has 4 children. In fact, he was already a parent when he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls at 19. Upon entering the NBA, he was determined to keep his “hood mentality.” Imagine life for a ghetto-teenage-millionaire-father that has calculus on the brain. Complex indeed.
Why the Lakers?
The “logo,” Jerry West, often said that evaluating talent is the easy part of determining which players to have on your team, whereas character is much more difficult. The Los Angeles Lakers are a storied franchise, rich in history and championships. As a four decade fan, there are patterns that one can see when following the team. First, the Lakers rarely bring knuckleheads into the organization. “Bad Boy” images are not consistent with the Laker brand. West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt, Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Byron Scott, Coop, Kobe, Shaq. Personalities, yes. Good guys, most definitely. Eccentric, occasionally. Knuckleheads, never. There is a certain purity that defines the "Laker brand" that extends to its coaches as well. Most recently, the Zen Master, Phil Jackson.
Looking at their player history, Kwame Brown was the first starter to wear his hair in cornrows in 2005. Brian Grant was the first to have dreadlocks in 2004. Lakers are typically clean-cut, well-spoken athletes. In those rare cases where they bring in a character a’ la Dennis Rodman, is when the player is at the end of his career and willing to toe-the-line in order to get a ring.
Clearly, the Lakers did not buy the perception portrayed by the national media about Artest. When looking at his career, one will notice that his teams have been to the playoffs over 50% of the time. Furthermore, his teammates are most positive about his contribution. As Kobe Bryant intimated when Artest was signed as a Laker, “talk to anybody that has played with him, he is a great teammate. He is not a problem in the locker room.” This speaks to the level of mastery of body, mind and soul necessary to be at the pinnacle of any profession.
Why Los Angeles?
Being 30, Artest has the youth-maturity combination to deftly exploit Los Angeles. He is young enough to still be identified as “street” when advantageous, yet mature enough not to do the dumb stuff. Hence, on the Jimmy Kimmel Show shirtless and in boxers that were really shorts. And oh yeah, he shaved Kimmel’s name into his hair for an added effect. Additionally, he’s a great interview. When asked about the Lamar Odom-Klohe Kardashian wedding:
Kimmel: Did you go to their wedding?
Ron: I went to their wedding.
Kimmel: Did you get them a present?
Ron: No, I introduced them…. I was looking for a present.
The man is funny. He often hangs out with fans that he befriends on his website www.ronartest.com or Twitter. Enjoying time with fans at the beach or taking them out bowling or to breakfast has been a ploy of his to endear himself to Los Angeles. He is also big with community service. He has formed a foundation, Xcel University, which helps children and teens living in high risk environments to complete their education and become community leaders. Selfless service is a sign of spiritual inclination and maturity.
Artest recently landed a reality show. It will be interesting to watch his life documented because of his intellect and complexity and not with the sense of an impending train wreck that a Flava Flav or Dennis Rodman would garner. Remember, this man has calculus on the brain.
No article about Artest would be complete without mention of the “Malice at the Palace” brawl with fans and the Detroit Pistons in 2004. As ugly as that situation was, it is excusable. One can only imagine our own personal reaction to a tense, competitive work setting such as during a boardroom presentation where insults (or tough questions) are hurled continuously. Then, out of nowhere, a beer drenches you. There is nothing more to say. Just think about it.