I realize for many of you Ron has already used up his chances and then some.
For others of us still hanging in there, I would like to know specifically will make you say enough is enough, Ron must go.
Let me say one thing in response to Kravitz column. No, Ron has never led his team to the NBA Finals. Neither has T-Mac, KG, Lebron, Wade, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Steve Nash, well I could make a really long list.
One other thing, I hear people say well Artest is a top 20, top 15 or maybe even a top 10 NBA talent. If that is all it was, if all he had was talent even that much talent, I would not be such a huge fan. But when you combine his talent, with his physical toughness, effort, energy, constant hustle and all the other good intangibles he brings, then you really have quite a player.
How many more chances will this guy get?
"I'm older and more mature now": Ron Artest says he will be on exemplary behavior upon returning to the Indiana Pacers. -- Sam Riche / The Star
They still see what they want to see, still believe what they want to believe. And so the Indiana Pacers' brain trust sits in various spots around Conseco Fieldhouse on Monday, watching Ron Artest and knowing, absolutely knowing, that Artest can finally be trusted to stay out of trouble.
They are seeing something I don't see. (And it's not for a lack of effort on my part. I've strained so hard to see Artest through their eyes, I've given myself a hernia.)
But I fear the Pacers are fooling themselves once again.
They are clinging, incredibly enough, to the notion that Artest will return next season a changed man and will help lead them to an NBA title.
"What have you learned about yourself during this long time away from the game?" I asked Artest as he spoke Monday to the local media for the first time in months.
He looked me in the eyes and smiled.
"I always knew I'm a ghetto-type guy; I'm from the 'hood. I'll be ghetto the rest of my life," he said. "At the same time, there's a lot of kids who look up to you. For that, I'll change."
So let me understand.
Artest is going to manage his temper better because he wants to be a better role model for kids?
I'm a suburbs-type guy.
So maybe I don't get it.
But it seems to me there are a lot more important reasons Artest must get his act together as the Pacers grant him yet another last chance -- his eighth, if my count is accurate:
How about changing for his teammates, who risked their safety during the Throwdown in Motown and played through unimaginable circumstances?
How about changing for an organization that has always publicly (if not always privately) given Artest support and second opportunities?
How about changing because at his current pace, he risks becoming another Dennis Rodman, a sad caricature who becomes known for his antics rather than his talent.
For Artest, though, there's this ominous bottom line: "I'm a 'hood cat."
That's the explanation for the multiple missteps over the years?
I remember something Isiah Thomas once said as he recalled his impoverished childhood in Chicago: "I'm from the ghetto, but I'm not of the ghetto."
Give me five minutes, and I'll give you a list of 50 players who come from circumstances as bad or worse than Artest. And I'll promise you none of them has drawn a near yearlong suspension for hitting a fan.
When Artest was asked Monday if he went to any therapy sessions during his suspension, he looked into the distance. "It was suggested," he said. "But I turned it down."
If he did engage in some kind of therapy, I can appreciate his desire to keep that private. For some people, there's a stigma attached -- even though there shouldn't be.
All I'll say is, if he didn't get some kind of counseling, he completely wasted the best chance he will ever have to turn around his life on the court.
"Do you think you have an anger management problem?" I asked later.
"No," he said evenly. "I'm ghetto. That's it."
I believe people can change.
But I've heard this all before: "I'll learn from my mistakes" and "I know now that I've got to put the team first" and "I'm older and more mature now."
I can understand if fans buy into that nonsense. They're supposed to be true believers.
But Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh? And team president Larry Bird? Wasn't there the overwhelming sense that when Bird was hired, he would be a no-nonsense leader who would trade a player in a heartbeat if he disgraced the game or this organization?
Remember how he immediately busted on Jermaine O'Neal for expressing his affinity for Thomas, the previous Pacers' coach?
When last season ended, Bird used the occasion to challenge O'Neal once again. Not that O'Neal couldn't use a healthy kick to the posterior, but at least he played and often played hurt.
How about Artest, who was ready to abandon his team early in the season, even before the brawl?
And to think, we used to rip Thomas for being too soft on Artest.
But we can't trade him.
They can trade him tomorrow.
The issue is, they know they can't get equal value, or anything close to equal value.
They know that when Artest is concentrating on winning basketball, he's the greatest bargain in the NBA.
Tell me, though, how many times has Artest led his team to the NBA Finals?
And how far did the Pacers get in last season's playoffs with a team whose players trusted one another, and were willing to sacrifice for the good of the team?
Let's get this straight:
I like Artest. I want Artest to become a superstar instead of a national punch line. There is absolutely nothing personal behind the criticism.
But it's time, past time, for Walsh and Bird to think with their heads, and not with their hearts.
Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star