Being Ron Artest
LOS ANGELES -- There are some dangerous places to be in the world. Inside Ron Artest's Cadillac Escalade is one of them. Inside Ron Artest's brain is another.
We're about to spend 16 hours inside both.
Friday, Dec. 3:
7:15 a.m. -- Yes, Ron Artest is crazy. Crazy people think Ron Artest is crazy. But he's not crazy 24/7. For instance, this morning, Artest is taking his kids to school in his Escalade, not his bright red, open-wheel Indy race car. But he has.
"Cops always pull me over, but it's street legal!" protests Artest, 31.
Like so much in the life of the most unpredictable man in the NBA, the Indy car is four parts crazy, one part brilliant.
Take, for instance, during the playoffs, when he usually rents himself a Lamborghini.
"I don't know. I don't know how to drive a Lamborghini, and the last time I did it, I had to pay them another $20,000 extra. So I'm not going to do that anymore."
There are three of his kids in this car -- Sade (13), Ron (11) and Diamond (7), and one more -- LeRon (9) -- back in NYC. He is mostly a very fun dad to have. Sometimes they wake up in the morning to find out that their dad appeared on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" the night before in just his boxers. Or did a TV appearance in a fake beard. Or went to a practice in just a bathrobe.Why, Ron-Ron?
"It's fun. My kids think it's funny, so I do it. But my wife doesn't like it. So I don't tell her."
Also, it gets him invited back. And makes his appearances go viral. Four parts crazy, one part brilliant.
7:21 a.m. -- Driving or talking with Artest, you have to hang on tight. The conversation does not just go off the rails. It's a shorted-out Tilt-a-Whirl with loose bolts. For instance, Ron takes a right off Barrington on to Bundy, two streets that became famous during the O.J. Simpson trial.
Do these streets take you back, I ask him?
"Kind of. But if the traffic's bad, I go the other way."
7:48 a.m. -- Ron Artest is pumping gas. And because he's 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds and being followed by an ESPN camera crew, people gather to watch.
Someone sidles up and asks, "Is this for that Kardashian show?"
Sorry, wrong Laker.
Ron-Ron is watching the dollars spin by much faster than the gallons and laments, "It's so expensive here."
Six million dollars a year only goes so far, you know. Keeping this in mind, Ron-Ron has planned three post-basketball careers:
- 1. Record producer. To promote his Tru Warier label, he sometimes carves the company logo into his hair.
- 2. Boxer. Someday, perhaps in four years, he hopes to fight as a pro. He trains under Freddie Roach, who also handles Manny Pacquiao. Who starts a pro boxing career at 35? So far, nobody.
- 3. NFL tight end. He works at this diligently in the offseason. He has studied the ages of the people who play. He has even consulted with Terrell Owens about it.
"How's he going to do that?" says Ron's coach with the Lakers, Phil Jackson. "He's got a contract with us through 2014!"
Ron-Ron is undeterred. "I always follow my plan 100 percent, even if I know I'm going to fail."
Artest Logic. Get used to it.
8:01 a.m. -- Ron goes inside his rented Brentwood mansion to do chores and an interview. The day before, Ron-Ron went on a Houston radio station and the host inexplicably thought he was interviewing Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola. So Ron-Ron did the whole interview as Scola, proclaiming himself "the greatest player in the world" in a Spanish accent that morphed into Jamaican.
'I always follow my plan 100 percent, even if I know I'm going to fail.' Artest Logic. Get used to it.”
Otherwise, Artest is maybe the most honest interview in the league. He'll answer anything anytime. But his news conference after he hit the game-winning 3 to clinch Game 7 in the Lakers' Finals win over the Celtics last season has to go down as the best in NBA history.
He was giddy as a solo lottery winner. "Kobe passed me the ball!" Artest said through his giggles, with Diamond on his lap. "Kobe never passes me the ball! (titter) I could hear the Zen Master [Jackson] in my ear. 'Don't shoot, Ron!' But I'm like 'Whatever!' (grin) But I definitely want to thank my psychologist."
Don't all Game 7 heroes thank their psychologist s?
9:21 a.m. -- Sometime today, Artest will probably call, text, e-mail or Skype that psychologist. "Maintenance," he says.
Artest is very big on counseling. He gets parental counseling, marriage counseling, anger counseling and personal counseling. Artest is such a fan of psychiatry that he's raffling off the $26,000 championship ring he won to pay for school psychiatry. So far, the raffle -- go to RonArtest.com -- has raised nearly half a million dollars.
"When I told my mom, she got real pissed at me," he says. "My dad, too. And my brother. And my wife. They said, 'You played your whole life to win that and you're giving it away?'" It befuddled his teammates, too. "I'd never do it," says Bryant, who has five. "How f---ing crazy is that? I'd just give them the money instead."
Not Ron-Ron. Already, the money will pay for "at least eight school therapists," he says. Plus, the more he talks about it, the less weird therapy becomes.
"I needed a therapist when I was a kid," says Artest, who was suspended every single year of his elementary school career. "I needed one real bad. I want kids to know that what they're going through, they're not alone."
10:07 a.m. -- Ron-Ron will never get Allstate's good driver discount. He hits the gas and brake constantly even when there's nobody in front of him. Our sound guy in the back seat is turning white.
He favors right turns from the far left lane. And he's always lost. One time, he left Milwaukee by car to go to Chicago and didn't realize he was going the wrong way until he hit the Iowa line. "I need my GPS a lot," he admits.
That's true for Artest in hoops, too.
"He's the kind of guy, if you give him specific, exact directions, he'll follow them," Bryant says. "But they have to be exact. But once you give them to him, he'll follow them even if he has to run through a wall."
Don't give him any ideas.
10:25 am. -- Ron-Ron is about to go into the shootaround at the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo.
What time should we expect you out, I say?
"Well, it's over at 10:30, but I always overtrain. I always start shooting after practice and I can't stop. I need to rest, but I'll probably keep shooting and shooting."
"Because once I get into that gym, that ball is like a drug. When you see that ball go into the basket, that's like one of the best drugs ever. I'm addicted, and I hope the state of California illegalizes it."
11:31 a.m. -- The shootaround is over, but, sure enough, Artest is shooting 3s. He's hot. He's making four out of every five. A very good 3-point shooter, he has hit about a third of them in his career, yet he rarely takes them in games now, and when he does, they always seem to be from the corner.
"See, I can't really understand the Triangle [offense]," he admits. "There's 1,000 plays in the Triangle. It's such a challenge. I get so frustrated about it, I have to call my psychologist. So I just stay in my one spot in the corner. If I leave my spot, I get yelled at. Phil's gonna say, 'What are you doing over there?!?' So I just don't move."
Make sense, Phil?
11:42 a.m. -- Ron-Ron is carrying a large bag of food for his lunch -- all vegan. But Ron-Ron is not entirely vegan. "About 80 percent," he says. "I like pork chops."
Whatever Artest is doing, it works. He remains one of the best shutdown defenders in the game.
"Who's better?" he charges. "You gonna say Bruce Bowen [the retired San Antonio Spur]? That's just political. Nobody wants to say, 'The best defensive player in the NBA is Ron Artest.' Because who would want Ron Artest to be the face of anything?
"People try to put themselves on my level, defensively. But none of these guys have ever done what I do -- hold All-Stars to zero points. I held Latrell Sprewell in his prime to zero points. I held Carmelo Anthony to two points. I'm the only player in history to hold LeBron James to zero assists.
"Really, I feel like I'm better than I ever was. I'm just not getting to show it I'm on Kobe's team. If he's not there, I'm on Pau [Gasol]'s team. If he's not there, I'm on Lamar [Odom]'s team. It's all right. I had my chance to have my own team -- in Chicago and Indiana -- but I messed that up. I blew it."
4:07 p.m. -- After a quick nap and three meetings at his house -- for his BALL'N shoes, his ring raffle and his Beijing soul singer, Shin Shin -- Ron-Ron is having his usual pregame meal. A can of beans. "Beans are nature's steroids!" he says.
But don't they, uh, backfire on you during the game?
"Not on me they don't. Other people, yeah. But I always blame it on the refs."
5:05 p.m. -- Ron-Ron is 35 minutes late leaving for the 7:30 game at Staples Center. He has to be there by 6 p.m., and it's rush hour. Unlike Kobe, he does not have access to a helicopter. He's further delayed when he sees his son Ron playing basketball in his socks, which are already getting holes.
"Where your shoes?" he yells.
Of course, he knows where young Ron's shoes are. They're sitting on the porch stoop in plain view.
Ron Jr. shrugs.
"Turn around," Artest yells.
Ron Jr. turns around. Artest cuffs his him hard on the back of his head. Thwack. But Ron Jr. doesn't cry.
"Now go inside and help your mom."
As we're pulling away, we can see Ron Jr. in the backyard playing with the two dogs. In his stocking feet.
Like father, like son.
But the father is learning -- slowly. Before, he would make incredibly stupid mistakes and follow them with fists. Anybody remember the Brawl at The Palace? Now, he makes incredibly stupid mistakes and follows them with a shrug.
"My whole life has been mistakes," he says. "I know I'm going to make bad decisions in basketball. I know I'm going to probably get knocked out boxing. I might break an elbow playing football. But without pain, there's no pleasure. Without failing, there's no success. I'm a perfectionist who's not perfect."
Phil Jackson can live with it. "Ron has such a clean heart," Jackson says. "There's nothing devious in him. The other night, Ron chased a ball he wasn't supposed to be chasing. He knew he wasn't supposed to be chasing it, but he chased it anyway, as hard as he could. And he chased it and chased it and eventually the guy got panicky and threw it away. So sometimes, his mistakes work out for the best."
After circling Staples Center twice trying to find his entrance, Ron-Ron makes it -- two minutes early.
6:14 p.m. -- In the Lakers' locker room, reporters want to know if Ron-Ron will reject the shots of President Barack Obama when the Lakers visit the White House on Dec. 13.
"Oh, absolutely!" he says. "I will lock down anybody anytime, even the president of the United States."
More stitches for Mr. Obama is not the most worrisome part of that trip. The most worrisome part is that Artest will also address Congress on mental health.
If we are not at the end of days, we're close.
6:38 p.m. -- I ask Jackson why he's playing Artest fewer minutes this season. "I'm not," Jackson says. "Ron overheard [substitute forward Matt Barnes] asking me for more playing time, so he's been raising his hand just to get Matt more time."
"Because we're a team. I just want to win another title. Who cares about minutes? Who cares about points?"
Uh, everybody else?
7:41 p.m. -- Tonight's assignment: Check Tyreke Evans, the Kings' best player by far. Enter Artest Logic.
"I overtrained swimming this week," he said on the way to the game. "So I'm going to be really tired tonight. Which is kinda how I like it."
"I can be too strong for some small forwards, so they don't want to go at me, so I get bored. So sometimes I overtrain on purpose before a game just to see if I can lock a guy down with only half my energy."
Tonight, the coaches have told him to force Evans to his left, but the first four times Evans touches the ball, Artest forces him right.
"Just to see if I can stop them," he says. "I like looking at a guy's face when he realizes that even his best moves aren't going to work on me all night. They look depressed."
Artest knows about being depressed. He's been depressed plenty of times. Especially in (his rookie year in) Chicago. "Man, all that losing depressed me. We won 17 games one year. Do you know what that did to my ego? It just crushed me. And I had a baby to take care of. That's when I started turning to Mr. Hennessy [cognac]. I tried to solve my problems with Mr. Hennessy."
He drank hard the night before games, he admits. Drank mornings of games, too. Previously, he has admitted to drinking Hennessy at halftimes of games. "Hennessy should give me a damn endorsement," he says.
Now, he's happier (mostly) and doesn't drink (mostly). After winning Game 7, Artest stayed up for 48 hours straight. At 4 a.m. that first night, cutting a record with Dr. Dre (don't ask), he saw singer Chris Brown and gave Brown the jersey he hadn't taken off the entire night.
"I don't know. I think I was drunk."
Not to worry, Ron-Ron. California hasn't illegalized it.
10:48 p.m. -- Game's over. Artest was his typical Ziploc bag, holding Evans to only five baskets. He was also his usual lawn ornament on offense, standing obediently in the corner and scoring just two points. The Lakers won by 33.
"Overtraining," Artest shrugs.
I feel overtrained. The crew is overtrained. Artest, though, isn't close to being done. He's off to a closed-door record company meeting. Says we can't go.
"I'll be in bed by 2 or 3," he says.
I was glad to hear him say he was going to promise to use his GPS.
After all, a little guidance never hurt anybody.
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LIFE OF REILLY
RICK REILLY, 52, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. His latest book is called "Sports From Hell: My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition." A finalist for the 2011 Thurber Prize for Humor, it's the account of his search for the dumbest sport in the world.
Not to give anything away, but a good bet would be either Ferret Legging or Chess Boxing. It also includes embarrassing attempts by Reilly to try Nude Bicycle Racing, Zorbing, Extreme Ironing, the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships and an unfortunate week on a women's pro football team.