This kind of freaked me out. Ron Artest favourite player seems to be timmy dee... hes got some nice things to say about him. He even called him a pimp!
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The Contender | Ron Artest
Ron Artest goes toe to toe with NBA analysts, Hip-Hop haters, and of course, himself. Are you ready for Round 1?
Ron Artest is looking for a fight. And if life were literally a battle, as so many wise men attest to, then Ron would be sitting in his corner right now, his eyes fixed across the ring, wondering why life continues to challenge him and why it simply won’t leave him alone.
He fidgets in that corner, incessantly. He makes eye contact, warily. He smiles, elusively, and then lets go of short laughter, right after he sticks you with a poignant comment. Like a jab.
Ron jokes that way. Only you don’t know if he’s joking.
It was more than a year ago that I was here last. I arrived the day before Ron and his Indiana Pacers were set to meet the Detroit Pistons in a grudge match to see who would walk away with the 2004 Eastern Conference Championship. I met Ron at Conseco, followed him through town, sat with him inside his home and listened to his life story. He told me things like how he grew up a somewhat angry child in Queensbridge, New York. I talked to him about his father, a one-time Golden Glover, and about how he reminds himself of his father—but not because Ron, Sr. shares his son’s streak of fiery anger, but because pops was also a good guy. A good athlete. Competitive.
What I remember most is a conversation with Jermaine O’Neal, the Pacers’ other best player. It was O’Neal that told me Ron Artest reminded him of himself. But not because Ron shares Jermaine’s athleticism or good nature. But because Ron can get mad as hell. Sometimes. O’Neal said he’s the same way. “Volatile,” is the word he used. I remember that.
But that was last year. Last spring, last year. And things change. And things, well, they stay the same. Things like Ron Artest’s volatile/serene nature. I notice that as soon as I sit down across from him in his home office. The world may have changed since November 19 of 2004—or, at least, the world of professional basketball—but Ron-Ron remains the same. Honest. Candid. Contradictory. Sincere. I ask him what the hell he’s been up to for 10 months. He’s had a lot of time on his hands.
“That was like two years ago to me,” he replies when I remind him of the last time I was at his crib. Time hasn’t stood still for Ron since he was suspended for the remainder of the season after igniting the infamous Detroit ‘brawl’ that became the sports story of 2004. It was in those moments that the most decisive chapter of Ron’s career was written. No matter what he does he will always be linked to that night, and weighed down by it.
“That chip on [my] shoulder means passion,” Ron says. He’s talking about the same chip he mentioned last year; the one he carries everywhere like an American Express card. “I’m always ready to go to work. I think people tried to calm me down a little bit. But it probably didn’t work. I’m still hungry, still aggressive. But at the same time I’m a little bit wiser now.”
He seemed wiser last year. Before the incident in Detroit, Ron had been a model citizen of Stern City. Techs were minimal, suspensions were non-existent. He was on the verge of being called a leader of his team. And when I sit down and talk with the man who, to many who have never met him, represents all that is in O’Neal’s words, “volatile” about professional sports, I immediately connect with the other side of Ron. The side that seems more peaceful than punishing. He reminds me of a sword: beautiful, honed to perfection, but deadly in the hands of the wrong man, or, in Ron’s case: the wrong mood.
At times it seems like the world is speaking a different language than Ron Artest. It’s like he wants to tell us something, maybe a truth he has worked hard to discover, but we do not understand. And he doesn’t understand us.
I read him a quote, taken from that day’s USA Today. TNT analyst Doug Collins has given his two cents. Ron makes change.
“It’s one thing to play passionately, and it’s another thing to play emotionally,” Collins told the paper. “Passion, to me, is love, joy, something that you can sustain. Emotion, first of all, runs out. And secondly, you’re always on the fine line of going too far. If Ron can somehow go from being emotional to just passionate, that would be a huge step.”
Does Ron agree?
“Because I don’t know what he’s talking about. It could be a good statement. But I don’t know what he’s talking about, not to say that he’s wrong. I don’t know what he’s talking about because I don’t know that language.”
A’ight. I ask him: does he think there’s a difference between emotion and passion?
“Yeah. Tim Duncan is passionate about the game. He doesn’t show too much emotion. People like Doug Collins? He gets a nice quote in the paper—not to say anything bad about him—but he’s still going off the brawl. Nobody’s looking at that year I had before that. So people [are] sayin’: ‘Ron Artest, he gotta play less emotional.’ What are y’all talking about? You assholes. Because I didn’t start no damn fight, you know what I’m sayin’? I was playing ball, with passion, and no emotion that day. It had nothing to do with emotion on the court, so what are these assholes talkin’ about? Not to call ‘em an asshole in a negative way.”
Of course not.
I ask Ron if he doesn’t agree with the Collins quote simply because his emotion is something he doesn’t feel should be traded in.
“It’s already been traded in,” Ron explains. “I traded it in like two seasons ago. These guys are late. They gotta do more research. They’re lazy, they’re getting paid too much money because they’re looking at TV and they’re not doing any research. They need to take a pay cut.”
NBA analysts’ salaries aside, Ron’s talk of “trading in” a part of his persona starts me to thinking about all the things people have traded in just to stay popular, paid, or both. Did Ron sell himself out? Did he stop being the emotive touchstone he was a few years ago to better fit into the system? He tells you the answer is no. And then he brings up a surprising role model.
“I like how Tim Duncan plays. I like how he just plays hard.”
You blink. It’s like Batman just mentioned his admiration for Superman.
“I remember one time Kevin Garnett was mushing him, and shoving him in the face; and Tim Duncan didn’t do anything, he didn’t react. He just kicked Kevin Garnett’s ass, and won the damn championship. You know what I’m sayin’? That’s gangsta. Everybody can show emotion, dunk on somebody, scream and be real cocky; but Tim Duncan is a…he’s a pimp.”
Ron laughs at his own analogy. Tim Duncan and pink gators go together about as well as Bishop Juan and earth tones. But I get his point. And his contradiction. He strives to be Duncan-esque while at the same time keeping a hold onto that chip on his shoulder; hoping to carry some of the peace he’s found between rounds into the fight itself. Every brotha loves Scarface. But the deadlier cat was Michael Corleone. Would you rather go out with nothin’ but your ‘little friend’, or take out the heads of the five families while you lamp at your godson’s baptism?
“I like the Scarface [comparison] off the court, though,” Ron offers. “I like the image. I want to do a movie, you know what I’m sayin’? Play the bad guy. You know, on the court it’s different. But, I’m not a totally good guy. I’m not like Mr. Goody Two Shoes, you know what I’m sayin’.”
I do know what he’s saying. As a matter of fact, I’m confused as to why he seems to have gotten this backwards. No one has ever accused him of wearing a white hat. They’ve claimed his hats are blacker than Al Sharpton. And they’ve leveled as much hate at him as they have at Reverend Al, exposing Ron’s malevolence in the process, and their own.
But Ron Artest, despite the confusion he may have about his own public perception, is not a man prone to trading in things or condescending to ruling powers. Yet even that conviction, just like the line he draws between passion and emotion, is separated into two actions that bear close resemblance.
“I haven’t really been trying to prove [that I’ve changed] to anybody,” Ron tells me. “I’ve been just trying to show people, if that makes any sense. I’ve been trying to give people different sides of me. I go out my way and do anything to try and be as real as possible. Even when I rap. I rap about clubs, I rap about females. But in an interview I’ma let you know I’m married. It ain’t goin’ down like that. I’m not wildin’ [at] the clubs, I’m not wildin’ out with females. It’s just a song. So it’s not that I’m trying to prove anything to anybody, I’m just trying to show people.”
Show them what, Ron? How you’re not The Man Who Went Into the Stands, but you are? Show them how angry you are and how calm you’ve managed to make that rage? Show them that you’re just a regular person when in reality you’re not? You are one of the League’s gladiators, a man fighting to stay alive, a man fighting to prove himself on court without proving a damn thing to the people who watch you from the stands. You’re the perfect representation of one aspect of your generation: a fighter who could be great, if only you had a great fight.
That’s when I begin to feel a kinship with Ron Artest. The two of us are members of a generation of contenders. Rebels who own a cause that has been commercialized to the point of cliché. And while we wait for a greater fight, when someone steps over a line, we take the fight that is given to us.
“I think it showed people that [they should] stay at ease,” Ron says about the after-effects of the fight in Detroit. “Be easy. I think that night showed people ‘just stay in check. Stay in line. Stay in formation.’ You know what I’m sayin’? So in the future, it won’t happen again. I’m definitely not gonna do that again. But, besides me, the fans [are] not gonna do that again.”
I wonder if some of those fans, the kind who believe that the players’ dignity and humanity comes with the cost of their ticket price, have honestly learned the lessons Artest hopes they have.
“People are going to jail now,” Ron suddenly reveals. “I’m pressing charges now. I didn’t even press charges against that dude. I was about to. But I’m pressing charges now. I want people to go to jail.”
He’s shadow boxing again. The Detroit fan who threw the cup that hit Ron in the chest is just a representative. The incident itself should be locked up, the racism put in chains and the abuse quarantined.
“There was so much going on,” Ron continues, “[that] I forgot to press charges on him. It’s probably too late. But the next time somebody does that, they gotta go to jail. I can’t accept nothing less.”
For the record, Ron doesn’t think he should have been fined or suspended for going into the stands after being provoked. He does think he should have, rightfully, gotten a five-game suspension for attacking a fan. But only because it was the wrong fan. Had he actually laid hands on the guy who did throw the cup then there should have been “no games, no fine.”
Emotion and passion. Show and prove. Ron walks a fine line. He has honest convictions but many of them still seem to be searching for a source. When I ask him about the game itself, he sounds more resolute than he has all day. Basketball, along with family and maybe even his music, holds very few contradictions for Artest. The game remains his home, a place from which he can never be exiled.
“People say basketball was taken away [from me]. Nobody owns [basketball]. Basketball ain’t going nowhere. There needs to be another league anyway.”
What kind of league?
“Another professional league. So more people can get an opportunity. It shouldn’t stop [with the NBA].”
I ask Ron what types of rules he would instill in this new league if it were his to run.
“I’d do similar rules to how they are now in the NBA. I’d learn from what David Stern did. Change a few things. It’d be more aggressive. Because the NBA’s gettin’ a little more soft. [My league] would be ol’school.”
No flagrant fouls?
“Flagrant fouls definitely. Whoever made the [NBA] rules is good.”
He gained weight during his time off. That was the first few months. Then he lost it by playing ball whenever and wherever he could. He also wrote songs. Completed an album. He says he was surprised at how much hate he got for even trying to be a rapper. I remind him of all the ballplayers who have preceded him into the recording booth. Then I realize that this may be a new fight for him. A better one. Maybe he can find his true fight inside the darkness of a studio as opposed the bright lights of an NBA arena. Maybe not.
I ask Ron if he believes the NBA’s reaction to the brawl benefited them in anyway, if the League’s public image was given some shine based on Stern’s deftness at handing out punishments.
“I think it benefited. Corporate sponsors make a lot of money and they want to make money with the people they make money with. If something is messin’ that up … That’s why … I’m tryin’ to get into business too, so I respect their decisions. “
I feel the irony. Artest both chaffs and flourishes in the grip of his own life, under the scrutiny of the public, and the rules of his career. But honesty, by nature, is inconsistent. Nothing is black and white. Ron Artest is both Scarface and Michael Corleone. And the fight we all contend for is fought both during the rounds and between them.
“I’m at that point,” Ron says. I’ve just brought up his Tim Duncan reference again, reminding Ron how he earlier referred to TD as someone he aspired to be like. I discover that, within the space of our interview, Artest has achieved that goal.
“The next level is where it’s second nature. A couple years ago it wasn’t second nature [to be calm], I was thinking about it. Now I’m able to just play and know that no matter what happens I’m not gonna get out of control. I’m still getting better, but, yeah, I’m there already.”
But doesn’t that fall into the territory of appeasement? Has Ron, maybe against his own will, made concessions and adjustments to prove himself? To please those who judge him?
“Nope,” he answers, firmly. “I’m not. They can kiss my ass. All of them. I’m not trying to say ‘hey, please like me.’ Not at all. I never said I was gonna change. What is there to change?”
Nothing. And everything. No, really, nothing. Well, maybe a few things. Everything. Can we start over again?
It’s Ron Artest versus the world. Just like it’s me versus the world. And you. And you, too. It’s all of us, a billion different rings, fighting this fight on an individual basis, knowing and not knowing who our opponent is. Ron has found one key to victory. Realness. Like him or not no one can accuse him of fraud. He has remained, emphatically, himself. Candid to the point of confusion. And when he, like a million other cats before him, pledges his allegiance to the code of keepin’ things real, you can tell that Ron means it.
“I’m tryin’ to do some real shit,” he says. “And it got nothin’ to do with being negative or anything. It’s reality. I can be me and still be a good person.”
I don’t doubt that. In fact, I know that. Ron Artest is a good person. But I fear for him because he has that energy in him, the same energy a generation of Black men have; some of them have found their fight and used their energy to win. Some of them languish in corners. Many of them have left the ring.
I ask Ron one more question. I know that his time in the League has been difficult. Yet he’s only 25 years old. His prime lies in front of him. Will he get there? Will he make it another five, ten years in the NBA?
“That’s gonna be easy,” Ron says.
I believe him. Even though I know it’s not true.