Somehow — maybe because, as Phil Jackson suggested, the basketball gods are on his side — all of this has come full circle for Artest, who stands four wins away from the championship he feels he stole from himself and the Pacers six years ago. Artest, the pariah, whose tenure ended badly in Sacramento and with epic failure in Indiana, understood Saturday night in Phoenix that he’s been given a chance to make it all right.
“I put it in God’s hands,” Artest said. “I always told God, I didn’t know if he’d ever give me another chance. Because some things were not my fault, some things were. And the ones that were my fault, I felt pretty bad. But I feel blessed and I think God put me in a good situation in Indiana. He put me in a beautiful situation. I got married in Indiana, it’s my home, four years there, had a chance to go to the championship and I screwed it up. Screwed it up. So I said, ‘If you never give me another opportunity again, I’ll understand.’ He’s just continued to bless me and I just keep getting more opportunities — Houston, Sacramento, here. I didn’t think he’d give me another chance, but he did.”
Artest’s regret is really touching in this article. He talks about Larry Bird, Jermaine O’Neal, Reggie Miller, even Jeff Foster. He talks about how he feels like a coward around them and how hard that is for them. It’s a delicate insight into a guy who genuinely feels bad for the damage he caused, not just by running into the stands and punching some guy who didn’t actually throw a beer at him, but for then ditching them by demanding a trade, submarining the franchise.
This doesn’t provide any redemption.
Ron’s not helping some classic small market team looking for the promise land to win a title. He’s not helping out a veteran All-Star Hall of Famer win a ring to cement his legacy. He’s not helping out one of the best fanbases in the league. no, no. Instead, he took the mid-level exception to play for a team that would have paid him full price anyway because money’s not really an object for them, just so he could be somewhere glitzy that’s already elite. He’s helping a team that’s been to the Finals 31 times out of 62 go back again. He’s helping a team loaded with All-Stars that plays in an arena loaded with people who haven’t been to a game until May win another championship. He’s not redeeming himself, he’s spitting on everyone else he played for.
Sacramento and Houston didn’t get this Artest, the rabid defender who just wanted to fit into the offense and not take bad shots. They didn’t get this Artest, who stays out of trouble, knows his role, and doesn’t do anything disruptive. Indiana didn’t get this Artest, being a good teammate, respecting the chain of command, only dreaming of a championship. No, no, only the Lakers, who don’t actually NEED it, are on the receiving end of it. It’s not like there’s been any sort of concerted effort, either. You listen to Artest talk about fitting in, and that didn’t happen. This isn’t a team that loves one another and fights for each other. It’s a team of mercenaries basking in their own glorious superiority. It’s the Titans, laughing at the mortals.
Don’t get me wrong, I can say these things without pointing out anything bad. The 2006 Heat team didn’t like each other much. Safe to say that 2000-2004 Lakers team was probably the same. But Artest stopped being a malcontent the minute LA signed him. It wasn’t Phil Jackson’s mind games or Kobe’s leadership. It was a decision by Artest, that NOW, now that he was in LA, he should put the Crazy Pills on hold. And now his whole career arc is being shifted. From wild man turned entertaining lunatic, to quirky championship contributor.
I think it’s terrific that Artest has turned it around. I think it’s phenomenal that an All-Star was willing to sign for the MLE to try and win a championship. I think it’s tremendous that he’s going to get to rewrite what the history books say about him.
I just wish for once it was a team that actually needs something like that to catch that kind of a break.
(Side note: Got out of the car yesterday after work and on my way in, I noticed something in the grass. Round mushrooms growing after the heavy rains. You know what they looked like? I am not even kidding.
I take it as a sign. Lakers in six.)