View Full Version : Bird's gambling problem

12-13-2005, 08:35 AM
link (http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news;_ylt=AvHl0Uk5wRRLRUdOhpdFnw68vLYF?slug=dw-artest121205&prov=yhoo&type=lgns)

The historic industry that fueled Larry Bird's famed hometown of French Lick was gambling – early-1900s, high-stakes casinos with grand mineral baths to draw the tourists to southern Indiana.

So maybe, deep in his genetic core (both enterprises were shuttered by Bird's youth), Larry found no problem with laying another Indiana Pacers season on the line, gambling once again that Ron Artest was what he said he was and not what he always turns out to be.

Whatever it was, Bird rolled the dice and lost. Artest, who destroyed one potential championship season and now may derail a second, has demanded a trade out of Indiana. On Monday, the Pacers said they would oblige, marking the official beginning of the end of a relationship that had gone too long with lopsided loyalty.

In hindsight, even Bird will have to agree that it made no sense. Sticking with Artest after last season's 73-game suspension for charging into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills was risky.

Artest told the Indianapolis Star, he wants to be traded in part because he doesn't feel he can maximize his offensive talents under coach Rick Carlisle's structured offense. Being the leading scorer on a title contender apparently isn't enough.

But his most telling comment dealt with the question everyone had already asked: Wouldn't a change do everyone good?

"I still think my past haunts me here," Artest said. "I think somewhere else I'm starting fresh. I'm coming in with baggage, but people already know about it and how I'm going to be."

Bird, the Pacers' president, was the ultimate champion as a player and one of the most competitive people in league history. Artest, at least during actual games, matches that kind of intensity. You can see how Bird believed it when Artest, who can be the most likeable, engaging person you'll ever meet, told him things were going to be different this season.

For the most part, the situation was working on the court. Artest averaged almost 20 points a game, led the league in steals and, in a memorable effort last month, shut down LeBron James to assert the pecking order in the Eastern Conference. He was on some short lists for MVP. The Pacers, along with Milwaukee at 12-7, trail only the white-hot Pistons for best record in the East.

But Ron Artest is not Larry Bird, and no amount of second chances will change that. Bird lived his life with a searing focus on winning championships. For as hard as Artest competed during games, he was susceptible to distractions once he left the court.

"In a vacuum, Ron can be one of best players in the league," said Fran Fraschilla, who coached Artest for two years at St. John's. "Unfortunately, there are external issues that always get in the way."

In this case, it was ego.

In asking to be traded from a title contender, Artest cited the great seasons of two big scorers on bad teams – Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. To Bird, who was scouting in Europe when Artest went public with his request, the idea must be unfathomable.

But that is the real Artest.

The biggest mistake people made following the Palace incident was assuming Artest's actions were a confluence of specific factors that created a perfect storm – so perfect many people even defended Artest.

You could understand why Artest flipped out when he got hit by a thrown cup. But his decision to jump into the stands to confront fans cost him the season, and it resulted in lengthy suspensions for Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal for trying to defend their teammate. It also cost the Pacers the season.

While no one could have envisioned something so dramatic, it was predictable Artest would do something last season.

He had already declared that he needed a month off from basketball to spend time promoting his recording label. It was a truly bizarre request and a sign of a man not focused on winning the NBA title.

So why did Bird bring him back? Why did he swear by Artest? Why did he pose for the cover of Sports Illustrated with him, in a story titled "Stand by Your Man?" Why did he enable him to score some undeserved attention?

Part of it may be because the trade value of Artest, with a $6 million salary, was limited. Part of it may have been a reluctance to turn away from all that talent, all that potential. Part of it may have been Bird not comprehending that a player he had so much in common with could be uncommonly unpredictable. Part of it may have been Artest was conning them all once again.

Whatever it was, it turned out to be a mistake.

Artest did not last two months before he quit on the team.

"I'm not going to answer any more questions about Ron Artest," said Jermaine O'Neal on Monday. "Ron doesn't want to be here, so Ron doesn't matter anymore."

O'Neal gave up 15 games, a possible championship and a good chunk of his reputation for Artest. He looked done with his teammate a long, long time ago.

But Larry Bird gambled on him one more time. And lost one more time.

12-13-2005, 09:05 AM
Things Larry needs to do:

1. Facilitate the trade of Ron Artest.

2. Sink some money back into Springs Valley High School and French Lick, IN. He has used his birthplace and everything that surrounds it for fame and notoriety, a.k.a. The Hick from French Lick, but that school is a Hell-hole. I've never understood why he doesn't at least head up a fundraiser for the school.