Artest gets summer lovin'
Fans at Target Center cheer Pacers forward; he scores 23 in 1st game since suspension.
By Mike Wells
MINNEAPOLIS -- The statistics -- 23 points, four steals and four rebounds -- were a given considering the competition.
But that's not why the 200 or so fans came to the Target Center.
A voice rang out from the stands seconds before the ball was thrown up at center court for Friday's NBA summer league game between the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets.
"We missed you, Ron," a fan blurted out.
For the first time in nearly eight months, forward Ron Artest was back in a Pacers uniform playing in a game.
"I played decent," Artest said after the Pacers' 72-64 loss. "It felt good to be out there and get back in front of some referees. It felt pretty good."
Friday wasn't about Artest showing up rookies and players hoping to catch the eye of the NBA officials in attendance. It was about seeing the first signs of a player who plans to have a more mature outlook after being suspended for the final 73 regular-season games and the playoffs last season for going into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich., after a fan threw a beer on him during a game against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 19.
"I'm not trying to redo my image and I'm not trying to please anybody," Artest said. "I'm here to continue what I have to do; just be myself. I'm not trying to do any Cheerios commercials or Coca-Cola commercials. I want to do a commercial in the 'hood.' "
This wasn't an ordinary summer league game for Artest and the Pacers. Besides having team president Larry Bird, CEO Donnie Walsh and coach Rick Carlisle in the stands, Artest's personal public relations agent was in attendance, along with a swarm of media waiting outside the locker room after the game. One fan wore a "Free Ron Artest" T-shirt.
"I've been around him more in the last eight months than I've been in all my time here," Bird said. "I'm not going to say he's going to be perfect. He'll hear a lot from the fans and I know the fans like to watch him play.
"Ronnie loves the game, he loves to work," Bird later said. "He loves to do the things to prepare. He's done that. Now is the time to get ready to play."
Artest received a warm ovation from the sparse crowd during pregame introductions and applause for each jumper and driving layup he made. Artest, who spent countless hours in the gym while suspended, looked good physically and played with his customary tirelessness work ethic while keeping a smile on his face most of the game. He scored 15 of his 23 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half. He played a team-high 35 minutes.
"Mentally, I felt rusty because I haven't played in so long," he said. "I just figured I had to take my time. I tried to approach it like a playoff game. In the playoffs you have to be poised. I just started out playing team ball. I played with my team, which helped me get some shots. I wished we could have played with a little more intensity and won."
Bender to rest
Forward Jonathan Bender, who is trying to resurrect his career after several injury-filled seasons, had eight points in 26 minutes in his first competitive game since Feb. 2.
Now Bender is going to let his body rest for about a week.
"I've been going full speed (rehabbing) since the middle of the season," Bender said. "It's time for me to take a break."
Bender has been working with therapist Dan Dyrek in Boston and recently played in a basketball tournament in Houston.
"He has no swelling and no pain. That's the great news," Carlisle said. "He heads into this much-needed break with a lot of momentum. The important thing is that he pick it back up after his break and continue to move forward. By October, he'll be ready for training camp."
I knew this wasn't a Bob Kravitz article right off. The title told me that.
What I want to know is who is deciding things about Bender? Every time I read an article about him it says something different about which days he will play. One article said he was going to play two or three games. Another said he would play the last two games. Yesterdays Star said he would play the first and last games. This article sort of indicates Bender is going on a break now.
Why not just say things will be decided day to day? They are making the Pacer's franchise look very unorganized.
No wonder they are unhappy with the medical staff.