Free Ron Artest
An ode to Ron Ron
This year, I named one of my fantasy teams “The Artesticles.” While an answer to “GuarunSheed Victory” and “Hughes Got Next?” the fact remains that Artest was a focal point of my team. The guy can do it all on the hardwood; score, shoot the three, toss a couple assists, murder a child, and play physical, intense defense, truly a lost art in this league. There is also a special place in my heart for old Ron Ron (as I affectionately refer to him) because he is a New Yorker, appeared in the “Nas is Like” music video, and most importantly, played on the best St. John’s University basketball team of the last decade.
Ron Ron showed nary a sign of this anti-social behavior in his days at SJU. There as a Frosh, he led the Redmen (I would rather eat my own deuce than call them the Red Storm) to their first NCAA tourney birth since the 1992-1993 campaign. The next year Artest was the premier player on a team that took Duke to double overtime and was one non-call against Ohio State from going to the Final Four. In that Duke game, Ron Ron hit a clutch 4-point play towards the end of regulation to send it to OT. That shot ranks up there with some of the great moments of my life like……hmmm, excuse me while I pop a bottle of Prozac. As my buddy Triola astutely observed, Ron Ron played like a bull in a china shop. He would barrel over anybody to get to a ball or put one in the basket. Plus, he had enough skill to not be dreadfully labeled as a “blue collar worker.” (The Sports Dude despises blue collar workers and Bruce Springsteen)
It seemed like destiny that Ron Ron would end up a Knick. He fell to them in the middle of the first round, but interim GM Easy Ed Tapscott thought it would be a fantastic idea to pick a 7-foot white Frenchman named Fredrick Weis. (You don’t have to be Corky from Life Goes On to realize that you should never pick a big white Frenchie.) And while Weis was getting posterized by Vince Carter, Ron Ron became a key player for the Chicago Bulls.
Once Artest signed his first pro deal, cracks in his façade began to show. During his rookie season he applied for a job at Circuit City in order to get the employee discount. Now this sort of behavior is fine for a plebeian like CmcD, but Artest was a millionaire at this point! The public was willing to write this off as a comical occurrence, which it inevitably was, but it became part of a pattern of unstable behavior that made Artest such an interesting player to watch.
There would be many more instances to follow and the Bulls, fed up with the headaches, traded Ron Ron to the Pacers for Jalen Rose because of his mental instability. The Pacers also witnessed Artest’s erratic behavior, including his record promoter alter ego. But what made him such a successful and engaging player, his reckless abandon for himself and his body, would ultimately lead to his current demise.
I had the pleasure of watching “The Brawl to End ‘Em All” while it happened. I was at a bar in Columbus, Ohio, (a whole ‘nother column for the Dude) and instead of talking to chicks, I fixated on the final meaningless minutes of a meaningless game. Then, what looked like a little schoolyard posturing turned into a full out “holy s!” pier-six bunkhouse brawl melee. Each moment was topped by the next. I have seen my fair share of b-ball brawls and almost all involve a large black man throwing punches like A-Rod swatting a ball out of a glove (figuratively speaking of course). This one was different though. Artest went bonkos, Steven Jackson was throwing ‘makers like The Sandman, and Jermaine O’Neal took a full-on sprint trying to punch through a guy’s face. Fans were running out onto the court, trying to challenge the players! The scene where the players were walking into the locker room was reminiscent of the crowd reaction when Hulk Hogan turned heel.
Then the suspensions came down from the ivory tower of the league office. Thirty games for Jackson, twenty-five for O’Neal, and a whopping and unjust season-long suspension for Ron Ron. Soon Ron Ron became the media scapegoat and the poster boy for all that is wrong in professional sports, and subsequently the world. I even heard that he was hanging with Bin Laden, Satan, and Tony Danza the other day.
But you know what, this was not Ron’s fault. He should not have been suspended for so long. There were two catalytic occurrences that incited this whole situation. First, Big Ben Wallace greatly overreacted by going after Artest following his hard foul. Sure, the Pacers were up double digits, it was near the end of the game, and the foul was a little hard, but it was not so egregious for the refs to whistle it as flagrant. Then as the benches cleared, Ron Ron was one of the lone players staying out of the confrontation, and showed his disinterest by lying down on the scorer’s table (if ever a greater sign of peace I haven’t seen). And that would’ve been that if not for occurrence numero Chris Fusaro (Dos). An unruly Piston’s fan (is there any other kind) hurled a souvenir soda cup at Ron Ron, striking him in the head, thus inciting Ron Ron and the rest of the Pacers. It is perfectly understandable for someone who gets hit in the head to react in such a way. In the Fall of 2001, the Dude was pregaming for the Cortaca Jug and playing Beirut (or beer pong if you’re from the other side of the tracks). In the middle of the game a person who shall remain nameless…cough, Bobby C., cough…hit the Sports Dude in the head with a beer can. The enraged Sports Dude returned by throwing a Gatorade bottle, shattering a glass door, and almost fatally injuring an appropriately bent over Anil. Therefore, a rational human being can act irrationally when hit in the head.
Once Artest went into the stands he confronted the wrong guy asking him “Did you do it!” This was a prime example of civility on Artest’s part. He was a monocle and pipe shy of appearing domesticated. The guy properly screamed, “No” (swiftly losing all control of his bowels), but the discussions hit a snag as Artest was bum rushed by other fans, repeatedly being hit in the head. He could do nothing but protect himself by punching back. Then Jackson and O’Neal came to rescue their fallen comrade and how do they get rewarded? With fists, beers, and suspensions, and every holier-than-thou, sky is falling reporter claiming this is the worst thing in the history of history and that the sport will never recover.
Well, there is no such thing as bad publicity. This will generate national interest in a localized rivalry. People will watch the NBA to see what will happen next. Artest may end up becoming a martyr or a Sprewell, but at least he will get his time off to promote the Allure album (I hear it’s hot!).
This entire clusterfrick has been one big overreaction to the next, from Wallace, to the fans, to the players, to the league office. Hopefully, once the dust settles, calmer minds will prevail and the suspensions will be lessened, greater security measures enacted, and hopefully the fans will realize that they can heckle all they want, but a line is drawn at physical assault.
And how does this end for Ron Ron? Why in a Knicks uniform of course! And I can’t wait until the day when he reenters the stands to engage in some friendly discourse, the Dude will be there with a shit-my-pants face to greet him.