This one actually has some interesting things in it:
March 18, 2006
Artest, Take 2
Posted by Mark Montieth
Few athletes have ever inspired reaction -- not to mention over-reaction -- as Ron Artest has. That hasn't changed since he left the Pacers for Sacramento, which figures to be a warmer place for him on all counts.
The earlier blog entry on Artest brought sharply divided responses, a few of which couldn't be published because they contained wild and unsubstantiated accusations and inappropriate content. His appearance at Conseco Fieldhouse on Friday in Kings purple inspired further discord, some of which was aired in a crude postgame exchange that was edited from my story in Saturday's paper.
It went something like this. Actually, it went exactly like this, because I remember it as if it had happened only yesterday, which it did.
As Artest walked through the tunnel toward the locker room following his 6-of-22 shooting performance, one man waited until he had passed a safe distance and then leaned over the railing to yell a profane insult at Artest. Another man across the aisle, wearing an Artest jersey, shouted a similar insult back at the fan.
And so it goes with Artest, who was one of the calmest people in the Fieldhouse all evening. That was true even when one fan caught the basketball he had swatted into the stands and threw it back at him while he was walking away, hitting him in the foot, which brought an approving roar from the fans. For those who remain convinced that he's a ticking time bomb waiting to go off again, this game -- along with the fact he hasn't been called for a technical or flagrant foul since joining the Kings -- stands as the strongest evidence to the contrary.
A blogger could fill all of cyberspace with thoughts on Artest. Here are a few. Those tired of the topic are hereby encouraged to click on something else.
1. Artest isn't evil, crazy, bipolar, manic-depressive or any of the other qualities that have been attached to him, mostly by people who have never met him.
He's immature and temperamental, but has a proven ability to learn from mistakes and modify his behavior. So, while he'll still probably find ways to make news in Sacramento, it's unlikely he'll be jumping into the stands to confront fans or breaking his single-season record for flagrant fouls anytime soon.
That means Chicago, which drafted him, got a good player with a lot to learn. The Pacers got a very good player who was maturing but still got caught up in an incredible array of controversies, some of which were his own fault, some of which were aggravated by errors in judgment by other people and some of which were fanned by media firestorms that raged out of control. Now the Kings are getting a great player who probably has put the worst behind him.
One of the basic truths about Artest is that people who have met him have a higher opinion of him than those who have not. That's not true for all players in this media-savvy age.
2. Larry Bird is not a racist, and wasn't trying to trade Artest for two years.
That's been the suggestion of some e-mailers, who themselves succumb to stereotypes and misinformation.
It's true Bird wanted to trade Artest following the 2003-04 season. Artest was coming off his only All-Star season and had been named Defensive Player of the Year, but had failed to handle the pressure of his first extended playoff run. After playing well against Boston and Miami, his body and psyche crumbled a bit in the conference finals against Detroit. His worst offense wasn't the over-publicized flagrant foul in Detroit in Game 6, it was his failure to practice and travel with the team. Artest tends to go his own way when pressure builds, a flaw he'll need to correct to win a title.
Artest's name was floated for trade only briefly after that season, but Pacers owners Mel and Herb Simon weren't on board with it and Bird and Donnie Walsh reconsidered. After that, there's no reason to believe they ever tried to trade Artest until he asked them to do so.
Racist? Remember, Bird posed with Artest on the cover of Sports Illustated last October and supported him publicly and privately throughout his time with the Pacers. Regarding the S.I. controversy, by the way, what's a team president supposed to do when asked to pose with a player? If he refuses, THAT would be a story.
Also remember, Bird and Walsh would have traded Artest for Corey Maggette if Maggette didn't have health issues with his foot. Maggette is black. There was an attempt to trade him for Caron Butler, too, but Washington wasn't interested. Butler is black.
Race simply wasn't a factor in trading for Peja Stojakovic. He was the best player they could get, and they were fortunate to get him. (Unless they fail to keep him when his contract expires.)
3. The Pacers had little choice but to trade Artest after he made his request, but they were correct not to do so before that.
It's easy to say now they should have traded him long ago, and they've said it themselves. But that's revisionist. When exactly should they have made the deal?
He had little trade value before his All-Star season, and was an emerging player.
It would have made no sense to trade him during that season, when the Pacers were winning 61 games and contending for a title.
The best time would have been after that season, but think about it. If they had done so, would they have gotten a player as good as Stojakovic? Probably not. The Kings weren't willing to trade Stojakovic himself at the time, although he had made a trade request of his own that summer. Besides, if Artest had been traded then, we'd all be sitting here today wondering what would have happened if such a young, promising team had been kept together.
Artest had no trade value after last season's brawl, either. Beyond that, the Pacers front office believed the 73-game suspension was grossly unfair and jumped in his corner more than ever. That was always the great irony of the brawl; it only solidified his status with the front office and many of the fans. And that, of course, is why so many people felt betrayed when he asked to be traded less than a year later.
The bottom line is that this is professional basketball, and the Pacers were trying to win a championship. They had a better chance of doing that by keeping Artest than by trading him for a lesser player. Doing that would have violated their obligation to fans, which is to put out the best possible product. They didn't win a title with Artest, but they wouldn't have won one by trading him before they did, either.
So here we are. The Pacers gained hope for a title when Artest played for them, and are no worse off today than when they traded for him. Artest, meanwhile, made life more interesting for a lot of people by playing the lead role in the longest-running soap opera in franchise history, although he caused a lot of anxiety, too. Just like Bob Knight's theatrics in Bloomington, we got a front row seat for the show.
Artest? He's feeling like a King, happier than ever away from the uproar.