In case you missed it amidst the blockbuster MLB deadline deals (watching Manny being Manny in anything besides red and white will take some getting used to, for others more than myself I imagine) and the 24-Hour Favre Watch (if he takes the deal, will that officially make him the best-compensated sellout in pop culture history?), controversial Sacramento Kings forward Ron Artest also recently went on the move. Despite rumors of his getting shopped to the Lakers to provide the team with the defensive and mental toughness they so badly lacked against the Celtics in this year’s finals, Ron-Ron ended up landing in Houston, in exchange for sixth man Bobby Jackson, a future draft pick, and a player to be named later. Artest is hoped to give Rockets stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming the boost they need to get the team over the hump, and maybe even into the second round of the playoffs, something the team has failed to do since pairing their marquee players.
Now, Artest does have the potential to be that sort of difference maker. He averaged close to 20 a game for the Kings last year, to go along with five rebounds and decent outside shooting, but really earns his salary on the defensive end, consistently ranking among the league leaders in steals and even winning the ’03-’04 Defensive Player of the Year Award. However, for many, Artest will be permanently synonymous with the infamous Pacers-Pistons Brawl in late 2004, in which Ron assaulted a couple of people in the Auburn Hills crowd and was subsequently suspended for the rest of the season. The fracas was notable enough to seep even into my heavily sports-blacked-out world, and even got Artest a 4-Ize rap single devoted to him.
Since the hubbub, Artest has somewhat flown mostly under the radar in terms of behavior (on court, at least), trying to re-build his image as a cooperative, flexible team player. But apparently Yao Ming has not forgotten about his past quite so quickly, quipping to reporters upon the noise of Ron-Ron’s arrival that “hopefully, he’s not fighting anymore and going after a guy in the stands.” Perhaps not the most sensitive or intelligent way to welcome a new teammate, but you’d think that a reformed Artest would likely take this opportunity to laugh off Yao’s (arguably) half-joking comment and spew some nonsense about just wanting to blend in with his new team or some such. But apparently Artest thought better of this, and instead decided to let loose some TRUTHBOMBS on Yao and company:
I understand what Yao said, but I’m still ghetto. That’s not going to change. I’m never going to change my culture. Yao has played with a lot of black players, but I don’t think he’s ever played with a black player that really represents his culture as much as I represent my culture. Once Yao Ming gets to know me, he’ll understand what I’m about. If you go back to the brawl, that’s a culture issue right there. Somebody was disrespecting me, so he’s got to understand where I’m coming from. People that know me know that Ron Artest never changed.
The questions–even aside from the most obvious one about why Artest felt this was such an opportune moment to Keep It Real–are abound:
- Is “Once Yao Ming gets to know me, he’ll understand what I’m about” a not-so-thinly-veiled threat?
- Does ghetto culture really approve of Ron Artest being their most visible athletic proxy? Are they grateful for the added exposure, or do they resent their somewhat caricatured representation?
- Do you think Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Carl Landry, et al will be showing up to the first Rockets practice in ’08 in white T’s and baggy jeans, flashing gang signs and blasting Chamillionaire in order to either impress Artest, or just make him feel at home?
- If he’s still this adamant about his street cred, why did everyone seem to think that Ron would be OK playing second banana to Kobe in L.A.? If he can’t even make nice with Yao Ming, who normally seems about as confrontational a person as Bob Ross, what do you think would’ve happened the first time Kobe barked at him in the middle of a game for not properly reading one of his needle-threading passes? They might not have needed an opposing team’s fans–or even just an opposing team–for another brawl of epic proportions.
- Is there any way David Stern can intervene, for the good of the NBA, to steer Artest in the direction of the Denver Nuggets instead? Joining Ron with fellow Real Talkers Allen Iverson, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony, with minimal intrustion from caretaker coach George Karl and without wet blanket Marcus Camby to get in the way of the fun, could’ve turned the Nuggets into the most fearsome, destructive and positively anarchic team in NBA history. Stop Snitching night at the Pepsi Center!
Ugh. Three long months to go for the ’08 season.