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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.

So, two days after NBA commissioner David Stern suspended him
for the rest of the season for climbing into the stands to fight
with Detroit Pistons fans, Artest began trying to scrub his image
and sell some records, doing a series of local and national TV
interviews and promotional appearances.

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.