Seems like every major newspaper feels compelled to do at least one of these Artest articles...
- Contrite Artest back on court
By Shira Springer, July 17, 2005
After returning to NBA competition Friday afternoon before a small, subdued crowd at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Ron Artest had just one complaint.
''I wish there had been more fans screaming and yelling," he said. Given what happened the last time Artest played in an arena filled with rowdy fans, it was reasonable to ask if that actually would have been a good thing. Artest answered, ''Yeah, that would have been great." Laughter followed. The irony of the comment was obvious to everyone who waited nearly 45 minutes for the Indiana Pacers forward to give his first postgame press conference in nearly eight months.
But by expressing his desire for a more raucous crowd, Artest showed just how far he has come since Nov. 19, when he charged into the stands at The Palace of Auburn Hills and started a brawl. Commissioner David Stern suspended Artest for the remainder of the season. It was the stiffest penalty ever handed down by the NBA.
''Things happen and the higher power made a decision," said Artest. ''I did what I had to do. They did what they had to do. You just move on."
Still, Artest faces challenges no NBA player has dealt with before. He must reintegrate himself into the league on and off the court, which means dealing with the media, fans, and the other pressures that come with playing. The Minnesota summer league was the first step in that process. With his play, continued contrition, and a vow to be smarter in the future, Artest hopes to prove that he has been unfairly maligned, that his reputation as an out-of-control troublemaker is undeserved.
''[Playing summer league] was actually something that he was interested in doing because it's been so long since he has played in organized games in a team situation," said Pacers coach Rick Carlisle. ''As hard as Ron has worked over the past several months on his conditioning and his game, there is no substitute for actual game situations. These five games serve as an opportunity for him to fine-tune his conditioning and regain some rhythm . . . We've all waited a long time for Ron to have the opportunity to return to the team on a full-time basis. The Minnesota summer league is a significant step toward that end."
Judging from his performance in the Pacers' 72-64 loss to the Rockets Friday, Artest stayed in good condition and lost little rhythm during his absence. He finished with a game-high 23 points (8 for 15, 6 for 6 from the line), 4 rebounds, and 4 steals. He did, however, commit five turnovers.
''It felt good playing with the guys," said Artest. ''I wish we could have got a win, but we played hard. I played decent. It felt good to be out there because it's been like, I forgot how many games the Pacers played in the playoffs, but 73 plus the playoffs, and finally to get back in front of some referees, that felt pretty good."
Considering his rigorous conditioning routine, it should come as no surprise that Artest easily handled 35 minutes in his first game. In addition to rejoining the team for workouts during the second half of the season, Artest trained by running, swimming, and doing Pilates and yoga. He also practiced wearing a 25-pound vest.
''He's grown up a lot," said Pacers president Larry Bird. ''A lot of the players in our league take a lot of abuse, but Ronnie will just stay focused and just play the games, and do what's necesssary to win. I've been around him more in the last eight months than I have since I've been here. I don't want to say that he's going to be perfect -- he'll hear a lot from the fans, [but] I know the fans really like to watch him play.
''Ronnie is like I was when I played. I worked out a lot, I did the things necessary to keep in shape. Even in the summertime, after going through all the battles that I went through as a player, even in the summertime I missed it. So he's sat out for eight or nine months. And I know Ronnie loves the game. Now it's time to play."
For his part, Artest plans to focus on his game and not worry about public perception.
''I'm not trying to redo my image and I'm not trying to please anybody," he said. ''I'm going to continue to do what I've got to do and be myself."