Artest mixes regret with CD self-promotion
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ron Artest was benched by his coach two weeks ago because he wanted time off to promote a new CD he produced for an R&B group. Well, the Indiana Pacers forward has plenty of time on his hands now.
I coached Ron Artest at St. John's, and while I'm truly saddened by this incident, every story has more than one layer. I understand that it's very easy to criticize him. There is also another side to this guy, and I hope he is able to bounce back.
Ron's intense competitiveness is what makes him a great player, and it's also his biggest detriment. When he was 17 years old, that intensity was sometimes over the top, and we chalked that up to his youth and immaturity at the time.
Ron is probably the most talented player I've ever coached, though I helped coach 18 NBA players in my 23 years. He certainly stands out, not only for his talent but also for his incredible intensity. That makes him a great basketball player and obviously gets him in trouble too. That same intensity helped jump-start a dormant St. John's basketball program, almost single-handedly.
Ron comes from a tough, poor section of New York in Queens. When I knew him as a teenager, he had an intense desire to become successful and help his family have a better life. At the same time, he is loyal to that neighborhood and to the people in it. One of his greatest strengths is his loyalty to people who have been with him from the beginning. I sense that this community (and its toughness) is what makes Ron the ultra-competitor he has become.
I haven't lost respect for Ron Artest as a result of this brawl. I understand -- I think -- what makes him tick. Behind the tough exterior is a guy who, as many Pacers people know, has done a lot for his community. All of his indiscretions in the NBA have been as a result of his ultra-competitiveness.
That's not to condone his behavior. He can be the greatest guy in the world, who cares about friends and family, but on the court he seems to take every slight personally. Hopefully, he'll learn from some of these indiscretions.
He was contrite and soft-spoken during his interviews, during which he mixed plugs for the CD statements of regret for Friday's brawl with plugs for the new CD.
While repeatedly saying he wanted to stay positive, Artest said he didn't want his own four children to see the often-replayed videotape of him throwing -- and taking punches -- in the stands after a spectator threw a cup at him.
Artest spent much of Tuesday morning at the studios of an Indianapolis radio station, where dozens of supportive fans gathered outside as he appeared on WNOU's morning show and did an interview on NBC's "Today" show.
During the "Today" interview, Artest held up the new CD three times and wore a T-shirt and hat emblazoned with the logo of his record label -- TruWarier Records.
His description of the CD -- "It's positive, it's about love" -- seemed to be Artest's message for the day.
"Things happen and you move on," he said. "Nobody benefited from this situation."
People hoping to catch a glimpse of Artest seemed willing to forgive.
"Everybody here loves him. We don't want to see him out for the season," said Mike James, one of more than 50 fans who waited for Artest outside the radio station. "You shouldn't go by a person's past. He's already paid for his past. It's a new season."
This was the seventh time in the past two years that Artest has been fined or suspended by the NBA. Earlier this month, he was held out of two games by Pacers coach Rick Carlisle after he asked for time off because he was tired from working on the CD.
He later said it was to spend time with his family and heal his aching body.
The season-long suspension for the fight will cost Artest almost $5 million in salary. That ban and those of his Pacers teammates Stephen Jackson (30 games) and Jermaine O'Neal (25 games) were appealed by the players' union Tuesday.
Fans were brought two at a time into the studio's lobby, where a relaxed and smiling Artest signed autographs.
Outside, other fans waited, some carrying signs reading "All I want for X-mas is Artest playing," "We support Artest," "Go Ron, we support you" and even "Ron, can I have a hug?" A radio station employee wore a T-shirt with the message "Free Ron."
Artest said he planned to continue promoting the new CD from the R&B trio Allure, a group signed to his record label.
He clearly appreciated the show of support from Indiana fans.
"It's great. They're good Pacer fans," he said. "I want them to keep coming to games. We're going to the playoffs."
In the "Today" interview, Artest said the length of his suspension was not appropriate.
"I don't think it was fair -- that many games," he said. "I respect David Stern's decisions, but I don't think I should have been out for the whole season."
Artest said he wishes the brawl in Detroit never happened.
"It wasn't good at all, for anybody. ... This is the third time that I've been hit with something out of the crowd," said Artest, who claimed he had been struck previously in Detroit and in Cleveland.
From an interview with People magazine to a statement Artest released through the Pacers, Artest's message was a change from the anger on his face during the brawl.
"It really hurt me to see the children crying on TV and I think about how it could have been my own kids," his statement said.
He also offered some advice to others during his interviews.
"I hope that if that would happen to any other players in the NBA that they won't react how I reacted," he said.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press