2007-01-19 / Sports

Ron Artest: The New King From Queens Returns Home To The Garden

By John J. Buro

The booing officially began at 1:06 p.m, Eastern Standard Time on Martin Luther King Day. The Sacramento Kings were on the Madison Square Garden floor, and awaiting Mike Walczewski's introduction.

Which is quite ironic because in this building, Ron Artest does not need an introduction. He is a local hero, reared in the Queensbridge Projects in Long Island City, who turned a two-year stint at St. John's University into an NBA audition.

The all-around player had arrived. But, just as quickly, he was gone.

Artest was primed to join the New York Knicks, who picked 15th in the 1999 Draft. But, Scott Layden, their General Manager, thought Frederic Weis - a 7'2" center from Thionville, France- would be a better selection [Weis, who has yet to play in the league, was later 'posterized' by Vince Carter during the 2000 Sydney Olympics].

Instead, the Chicago Bulls followed the Knicks' miss and selected Artest, who responded by crying tears of joy.

Which rapidly evolved into another unusual moment, as the rookie promptly applied for a job at a Chicago-area Circuit City…just to take advantage of an employee discount. Soon after, he was fined $5,000 because he missed a mandated orientation meeting. At this point, he still had yet to play an NBA game.

In June of 2001, Artest busted two of Michael Jordan's ribs during a pickup game - and didn't even know until the following day. "I read it in the paper," he told the Chicago Daily Herald. "I was like, 'Man, Mike's ribs got broke. How'd his ribs get broke?"

Not surprisingly, the lovefest lasted through February 2002, when Artest was shipped to the Indiana Pacers. Within four months, he was involved in two separate domestic squabbles, with two women who are mothers to his children. He later attended one of the team's practices in a bathrobe.

In January 2003, Artest was suspended for three games and fined $35,000 for smashing video equipment after a loss to the Knicks at the Garden. Before the month was complete, he was further suspended four games and fined $84,000 after confrontations with both Pat Riley, coach of the Miami Heat, and their fans.

Still, he blossomed into one of the game's best defenders and was, ultimately, tabbed as the 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year - but only after he tried to induce an endorsement deal by changing, and mismatching, his sneakers during his All-Star debut.

On November 19, 2004 -ten days after Rick Carlisle, the Indiana coach, sat him down- he stood up and challenged the world. Or, at least, the fans inside the Palace of Auburn Hills.

"He has bad wiring," noted one local scribe, who has covered Artest since his days at La Salle Academy.

The implication was immediately understood. When the doorbell rings, it is never known which one of his personalities will answer.

"I've never, in my life, taken any medication [to control his temperament]," he admitted. "Doctors have given it to me, but I've thrown it in the garbage."

When Artest is spoken about, it is inevitable that this one evening becomes part of the discussion. All the future MVP Awards, and league titles cannot change the past.

Any player, man or woman, who makes their mark in sport has one defining moment. 'The Malice at the Palace' - arguably the worst brawl in league history- is his. It started with a hard foul on Ben Wallace and soon escalated into a shoving match before Artest took it to the stands.

Off the court, Artest would plea 'no contest' to assault and battery charges and walk away with a slap on the wrist. Anger management counseling. Community service. One year probation and a $250 fine. On the court, he was banned for the balance of the campaign. Seventy-three regular-season games, thirteen playoff games. And close to a five million dollar loss in salary.

"I'm going to continue playing hard, and out of control," Artest boldly stated upon his return in October 2005, "like a wild animal that needs to be caged in." He ranted some more in the December issue of Penthouse, by challenging Wallace, the Pistons' strongman, to a boxing match for pay-per-view subscribers. In December, he suggested to the Indianapolis Star, that a trade would be good for everyone concerned. Such remarks cost him another $10,000.

"We felt betrayed, and a little disrespected," Jermaine O'Neal, a teammate, said. Whatever remained of their on-court alliance was, clearly, history. "The business relationship is over. That's a fact."

Within a month, the Pacers had granted his wish, although Artest initially did not want to play in Sacramento. Only after speaking with the Maloof brothers, the Kings' owners, did he relent. "I don't want to get traded; I'm happy here," he reflected, after the Kings lost, 102-97, to the surging Knicks.

Artest represents the best and worst of what the NBA offers. He is a terrific player at both ends of the court; in fact, his superlative defense often undermines his offensive prowess, But, inside, the timebomb continues to tick. And, it will likely detonate. Again.

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