Rebirth Through Snake Eggs

There are many NBA players for whom transgression and redemption are simply part of the journey. When the details of your job performance are constantly available for review/critique and accounts of your personal life are readily published online, things tend to explode a bit. Such is the price of transparency, and while many athletes are far from model citizens, many are victims of a ridiculous level of scrutiny; every DUI becomes a headline, every photo of a college athlete holding a beer bong an issue of national importance.

Then there’s Ron Artest.

Moore already tackled the issue of Artest’s redemption, and many other scribes have done the same all over the internet. ‘Artest: Redeemed’ is one of the more prevalent storylines of the Finals, and fittingly so given his heroics on the closing game of the conference finals. I just felt the need to play counterpoint to Moore’s initial post, if only to offer a slightly rosier view of Ron’s current success.

The Lakers, as Matt described, are beyond fortunate. They’re blessed with an incredibly talented roster, a Hall-of-Fame coach, one of the best markets in the country, and an owner willing to pay for success. Even without Artest, the Lakers would still be one the NBA’s top teams.

Don’t for a second think that means that the Lakers don’t need him. Without Artest, maybe the Lakers don’t even grab the top seed in the West. Or even if they did, the first round match-up with the Thunder becomes incredibly difficult. The Jazz are still pushed under the rug with relative ease, but the Lakers expend more energy than they should. Jason Richardson is left with more room to operate, or Grant Hill is allowed a bit more offensive freedom should Kobe be moved over defensively to account for J-Rich. The butterfly effect of a Ron-less Lakers team would get ridiculous, but the most important result is this: without Ron Artest, the Boston Celtics are the definite favorite to win the title.

It takes an embarrassment of riches to win a championship in today’s NBA. The coach needs to have the proper system in place, with the right delegation of responsibilities and leadership. The players have to buy into their roles without question, and execute on both offense and defense with little room for error. The roster needs to be blessed with talented players, both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench. The Lakers have that, thanks to Ron. There’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place — including the loony misfit with a rep for hunting shots. Just because there are other franchises struggling to compete doesn’t mean the Lakers weren’t in need of something more, and Artest has provided just that.

After the brawl, Artest was a liability for the Pacers. Then he moved to Sacramento, where his value was in the fact that he wasn’t Peja Stojakovic. Then he went to Houston, where injuries to Yao and McGrady changed Ron from the missing piece to a frivolous possession-killer. L.A. is different. Artest has been placed in a position of necessity, as without him the Lakers would stumble. He’s that important.

That’s Ron’s redemption. He’s gone from liability to frivolity to necessity, and there isn’t even a whisper of the Malice in the Palace. We’re to the point where it’s about basketball again with Artest, and that’s more than time healing all wounds. It’s Ron’s defense on Kevin Durant reminding us what got him here in the first place. It’s his awkward drives reminding us of what we could have missed had Artest not rediscovered himself. It’s a game-winning tip-in that Ron nailed because he ran all the way across the court to be in the right place at the right time, and put himself in a position to help out Kobe Bryant.

He didn’t redeem a franchise, or a fellow star, or a fan base. He never had to. All he had to do was redeem himself, and that’s Artest’s crowning achievement of these playoffs, championship or not.

Seth Carstens