Look out L.A., Ron Artest has arrived
The Lakers' flamboyant forward has his ring, a single, and is ready to party
LOS ANGELES -- Things were a little different at the "Lakers Championship Parade: Part 2" this year.
Last year, Kobe Bryant wore a T-shirt that played along with Nike's playful puppet campaign, showing a puffy puppet hand wearing four championship rings. This year, Bryant wore a shirt celebrating his decidedly less cuddly alter ego -- the black mamba -- with the snake on the front of it curled in the shape of a No. 2 to represent the Lakers' back-to- back titles.
"For the last two weeks, I've been in my bat cave for 24 hours a day, so it felt good to get back to civilization," Bryant said.
Last year, the team and the city of Los Angeles split the bill, chipping in approximately $1 million apiece, and the parade ended with a rally at the L.A. Coliseum. This year, with the cash-strapped city continuing to face economic constraints, the Lakers picked up the $2 million check. All of the celebrating was relegated to the team staying on floats following the two-mile route from Staples Center to the Galen Center.
Last year, coach Phil Jackson addressed the crowd at the Coliseum while wearing his bright yellow baseball cap with "X" embroidered on the front of it, representing the 10 titles he had won coaching in the NBA. This year, Jackson missed the parade completely as he attended various medical appointments, and his girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, wore his "X" hat for him -- with a sticky note with "+ 1" fastened to it with a safety pin.
"I wish [he was here] because he's my favorite coach of all time, but I enjoyed it," Ron Artest said. "Before I came here, I had Miller Lite, I had a little sip of Hennessey -- I wasn't playing -- so I enjoyed it for him. Phil, you rest, and I enjoyed it for you."
Oh. Right. So that's how this year's parade was truly different.
Artest starred on the court in Game 7 against the Celtics (20 points, five rebounds, five steals) and made an even bigger impact after the game in his instant-classic postgame press conference ("Acknowledge me!!!") -- and he continued to own the spotlight Monday.
The man who has a reality TV show in the works, called "They Call Me Crazy," looked like the Mad Hatter at the parade, wearing a black top hat that was adorned with multicolored feathers on top. Purple, yellow ... and pink. (He blamed the pink on his daughter, Diamond; you might remember her from that legendary press conference -- "Why are you starting at me, daughter?")
Thousands of Lakers fans who lined the streets of downtown L.A. were staring, and screaming, at Artest.
"It was more than I expected. I didn't think it was going to be that crazy," Artest said. "The fans and the energy they had, I kind of felt them, they almost made me go insane because they're going crazy, 'Ahhhh! Ahhhhh!' and you're screaming back, 'Ahhhh! Ahhhhh!' and I was like, 'What am I screaming for right now?'"
He might have come off as overzealous compared to his peers, because every other player on the Lakers' roster except Artest had been through a parade last season. But this was his moment, and the Lakers forward made sure he made the most of it, even though his wife, Kimsha, estimated her husband has slept for only five hours since winning the championship.
ROAD TO REPEAT
ESPNLosAngeles.com chronicled the Lakers during the NBA playoffs with photos and game coverage. The gallery »
And by the time the parade kicked off at 11 a.m. Monday, it had been more than 72 hours since the Lakers clinched on Thursday night.
Not that a lack of sleep is slowing down Artest at all.
"I'm going to really enjoy myself, and hopefully this doesn't come across as arrogant or cocky, but I'm going to en-joy my-self," Artest said. "How am I going to enjoy myself? Go to the club, every day."
Just as Artest's game hit its stride late in the playoffs against the Suns and Celtics, Artest's partying knows no limits. He upgraded from a champagne shower in the locker room after Game 7 to a Grey Goose shower at a club called Wonderland later that night (perfect place for the Mad Hatter).
He's upped the ante with his attire, as well. He wore his uniform out on Thursday, eventually giving the vodka-soaked jersey away to singer Chris Brown. The next day on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" he donned purple and gold argyle pants. Monday it was the top hat. What could be next? "I got some pants with Marilyn Monroe-type women all over them saved for George Lopez," Artest said.
It's been a sweet release for Artest, now that he's captured the championship he's been chasing for 11 seasons in the league. And it's been a showcase for his attention-starved side, sublimated while trying to fit in during his 11 months with the Lakers.
More on the Lakers
For more news and notes on the Lakers, check out the Land O' Lakers blog from the Kamenetzky brothers. Blog
If the Lakers hadn't turned a 13-point second-half deficit into a four-point win in Game 7, Artest would still be in the gym at all hours of the night, relentlessly aiming at that ring, rather than at the club.
"I'm not no fool," Artest said. "I'm not going to sit here, act like we knew we were going to win that game. That game could have gone either way. In that last 12 minutes, so much was going on, only the strong was going to survive, whoever was mentally tough.
"It went from being a parade to possibly going to Katana and having a dinner or going to eat some sushi and going to bed and watching 'Seinfeld,' it was that close."
And after the parade was over, with a small pack of media standing close around him in the main concourse at Staples Center, Artest rapped his newest single, "Champion," that he wrote last June before even joining the Lakers.
"Can't slow me down, won't stop me never," Artest said, belting out the lyrics.
The rap didn't sound like a hit single, but the words sounded a lot like the Lakers right now -- two parades and counting.
"I listen to ["Champion"] all the time," Artest said. "I just put it on repeat, repeat, repeat all day."
The Lakers got their championship repeat. A three-peat could come down to the Mad Hatter Artest once again. For now, he's blissfully lost down the rabbit hole.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten