Ron Artest has been through many trials and tribulations during his 11-year career in the NBA, but it seems as if he’s finally come out on the other side. A world champion with the Lakers, he recently earned publicity for becoming an advocate for mental health awareness in California schools. Once an NBA outcast, Artest is now a positive part of the basketball universe.
Yesterday, Las Vegas held Ron Artest Day in honor of the Lakers forward. While that title may bring to mind images of Artest jousting with the knights at Excalibur, jumping around with the pirates at Treasure Island, and doing whatever really rich people do with Steve Wynn, there was actually a very good reason for Artest receiving the honor. From the Orange County Register (via PBT):
Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Wolfson was set to honor Artest for his work with Xcel University, his program that works with community centers and schools to identify high-risk students and give students an incentive toward a healthy lifestyle. Artest has also been supporting The Mental Health in Schools Act, which will be reintroduced into Congress in February during the 2011 legislative session and would provide $200 million in grant funding to schools nationwide to hire on-site mental health professionals to work with students suffering from mental-health issues.
These are both extremely worthwhile causes that deserve attention outside of this story. It’s very impressive that Ron-Ron has become so devoted these issues, and he deserves this kind of acknowledgment.
Of course, before you go ahead and think Artest has become totally normal, just take a look at what he had to say after receiving the key to Las Vegas. From Dave McMenamin’s Twitter:
Ron Artest on being presented w/ the key to the city in Las Vegas tonight: “I’ll probably walk into everybody’s homes. I got the key, so…”
More Artest on getting the key to the city of Las Vegas: “I’m going to Floyd Mayweather’s house first, put on some of his jewelery”
Someone should probably tell Artest that most of the city’s population is really old, although I’m not sure that would stop him. Maybe he’ll stop by my grandpa’s house to talk about the similarities and differences between growing up in Queensbridge and war-torn Poland.
On a more serious note, what’s important to note here is that Ron-Ron is the same person he’s always been, just not in such a destructive fashion as in the past. He’s still a goofy, weird dude with some issues, but he’s also more able to function in a typical basketball environment.
At the same time, he’s mostly rehabilitated from the terrible image that followed him after the Malice in the Palace six years ago. Typically, when an athlete rehabilitates himself we expect a full change in tone or personality. Think of Mike Vick, who professes to be serious about every aspect of his life, or Gilbert Arenas, who has vowed not to be his normal goofy self in his return from last season’s gun brouhaha. In stark contrast to these players, Artest has become a valuable member of a championship team while remaining himself. He’s not putting on a show for the cameras, because he’s still the same weird dude he’s always been.
It’s an impressive accomplishment and one that deserves our admiration. Artest didn’t conform to public expectations and forged his own rehabilitative path, one that worked best for him. With any luck, his story will become not just an example for other athletes, but one for fans, too. We shouldn’t expect complete transformations from shamed sports stars, because that’s not how people recover from these kinds of difficulties. In truth, Artest’s approach — one in which he remains as bizarre as ever — is more mature than the alternative.