July 12, 2005

Artest promises maturity
Pacer suspended for most of last season says he owes franchise that has backed him.

All eyes on him again: Ron Artest, who missed most of last season, is eager to resume being a valuable member of the Pacers. -- Sam Riche / The Star

By Mark Montieth

He'll have a different number. He plans to have a more mature outlook, too. But there are limits to the changes Ron Artest is willing to make in the wake of his career-altering suspension.

"I'm the type of person who reacts," the Indiana Pacers forward said Monday. "I'm ghetto. I'm 'hood -- a 'hood cat. At the same time, I'm learning from my mistakes."

Artest, suspended for 73 games and the playoffs last season for going into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills after a fan threw a beer on him during a game Nov. 19, met with the local media for the first time since then on Monday. Although he had rejoined the Pacers in practice in January, he had been shielded from local reporters by an agency that represents him.

The silent period became impractical after he decided to play on the Pacers' summer league team, so he sat after practice on a training table set up off the main court at Conseco Fieldhouse and answered questions for 231/2 minutes.

Artest said he did not undergo counseling or therapy during his suspension, despite indications from NBA commissioner David Stern and others that he was engaging in various forms of self-improvement.

"That's not my announcement to make," Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh said when asked about Artest's suspension activities.

Regardless, Walsh and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said they have noticed positive changes in Artest since the suspension.

"The things I notice are that he returns phone calls promptly and when you tell him to be somewhere, he's always there," Walsh said.

"I think he seems different in a lot of ways," Carlisle added. "In general, he really appreciates what he's able to do for a living."

Artest agrees, and acknowledges his suspension has strengthened his bond with the franchise. The patience and understanding Walsh and team president Larry Bird have shown have not gone unnoticed.

As for what he can do to reward them, however, nothing has changed.

"I owe the franchise a championship," he said. "But I've felt like that ever since they traded for me. I just try to stick to that every season."

Walsh said he and Bird have told Artest their patience is not unlimited, however.

"(Artest) knows that and I know that," Walsh said. "We're talking about major issues, though. That's not a flagrant foul or a basketball play. It goes beyond basketball."

Artest agreed with that point during a wide-ranging interview in which he also explained his decision to revert to his original uniform number, the impact of his suspension and why he's playing on the Pacers' summer league team.

He will wear No. 15 next season, the number he had in high school, college and for his first three NBA seasons. He switched to No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan three years ago, and then to No. 91 as a tribute to Dennis Rodman last year.

He planned to wear the numbers of other members of Chicago's championship teams of the 1990s as well, but has discarded that idea.

Artest said wearing the No. 91 of Rodman, another controversial NBA player, "kind of backfired on me" and that he'll stick with No. 15 the rest of his career.

"Enough of the games," he said.

Artest continually brought up the theme of becoming a better team player, citing the Pacers' 44-win season amid his absence as an inspiration. That was in contrast to last summer, when he had declared in one interview that he was the team's most valuable player, and stated a goal of becoming the league's MVP the following season.

"The individual stuff takes care of itself," Artest said. "We have to be able to play team ball. I learned a lot watching the Pacers, the way they hung together. That's a big part of winning.

Artest said the most difficult part of his suspension was "not being there for my team," adding, "my team has supported me through thick and thin."

Artest has frequently practiced with the Pacers' summer league team, which traditionally consists of free agents, recent draft picks and younger players. He will accompany the team to Minneapolis for games this month, however, to help get back his conditioning and timing.

Carlisle said he expects Artest to play in every game, and for 30 minutes or more. Artest said, however, he isn't looking to dominate the action.

"These guys have to show the coaches and international coaches they can play," he said. "I want to play, but these guys need jobs, too."

Artest said he has been surprised by the support he'd received in public since the brawl, whether it's in Indianapolis or other cities.

"Everywhere I go, whether it's China, Africa, Greece, Detroit, L.A., everybody shows tons and tons of support," he said. "It's unbelievable.

"From reading all the media, I thought everybody hated me. But when I get on an airplane, it's like 100 percent love. It's amazing.

"It's my job now to focus on basketball. It's my job to put the team first."

Call Star reporter Mark Montieth at (317) 444-6406.