Ron Artest press conference video, Part I
Lot o' footage to render and chop up, as this was a seriously long press conference. About 35 minutes. But it's worth the effort to transfer, because this was probably the most interesting, introspective and entertaining presser of such ilk that I've ever attended.
Whether Ron Artest was consciously trying to get off on the right foot or simply operating in his typical stream of consciousness, I thought the guy acquitted himself nicely. Tough questions about his past weren't skirted. Plenty of hilarious lines. Plus some often brutally honest self-criticism. Every skeptic likely wasn't converted (and depending on the impetus for skepticism, rightfully), but it would be hard to fault the guy over a failure to be forthright.
"Where's TMZ," Artest asked after being introduced by Mitch Kupchak. "They're not here? That's good news." Ron Ron was beaming at joining a franchise that's always been his first choice team. Not that Artest didn't give it all for his past employers- for that matter, loyalty dictated the Houston Rockets getting first dibs at his services- but his Utopian uni has always been purple and gold. "A long time coming," as he described this union. Thus, Artest could barely contain his excitement when, with free agency one minute underway, his agent David Bauman informed him of a call from Kupchak.
"I said, 'For what?'" recalled Artest. "(Bauman) says, 'He wants to help you get a ring.' " As both Bauman and Kupchak later explained, the actual negotiations themselves were more complicated, but an agreement eventually came to fruition, which made Ron happy enough to potentially sacrifice his wardrobe. "I was in LA already... it was great because I didn't have to leave and go back to Houston. Hopefully my clothes make it to LA. If they don't, they can just stay in Houston."
Artest also discusses his familiarity with the triangle and his defensive prowess, the latter he willingly attributes in part to the presence of former teammates like Jermaine O'Neal.
Despite his none-too-secret past desire to bring Artest into the fold, Kobe Bryant isn't willing to declare the Twitter Master's presence a guarantee of an better team. No argument from The Mamba's new teammate.
"He's right," nodded Artest. "It's not a given. It's not a given that just because you add me to a team that we're just going to be the number one team. You've got to put that work in, and that's something I'm not afraid to do, that's something I know the guys are not afraid to do."
Artest also isn't afraid to sacrifice shots and points if that means extra W's. He reminded everyone about doing so in Houston, despite doubters predicting that being in a contract year would lead to stats-centric play. There was also talk of Lamar Odom, Artest's childhood buddy and, as of this writing, an unsigned, unrestricted Lakers free agent. He's hoping the two will finally play together at the pro level, especially now that Lamar finally has a title. Since LO has always beaten Ron to titles (dating back to high school), the new Laker sees this as a potential sign that his could finally be coming.
Point of clarification. Ron Artest has no intentions to "hoodalize" the Lakers (such objectives are limited strictly to ESPN), nor should too much be made of him tossing around the phrase. Dude was just having fun. "It's summertime," smiled RA. Asked if the Lakers needed toughening up, Artest made no bones of an opinion that the Lakers lacked some rough and tumble during the 2008 Finals, but was very impressed with what a difference a year makes. In particular, he threw out praise for Pau Gasol.
As for his new digits (#37), Artest confirmed word on the street, presumably the kind that lights up with every step taken. The fan-suggested number was indeed a tribute to Michael Jackson. "Thriller" owned the charts for 37 consecutive weeks. RA is a Jacko fan, so why the hell not? Plus, MJ was on top of the world during that period, which is exactly how Artest feels at this moment. "Where I'm at in my life, I came from noting to having something, and I feel like I'm #1."
It's also no secret that, in terms of pure talent, Artest's market value would fetch more than mid-level exception money. But between the baggage and the Lakers' cap situation, he's not only taking below his true "net worth," but a pay cut from his last salary. No worries. After throwing his arm around Kupchak and declaring himself "underpaid," Artest- who grew up scrounging up pennies to get by- offered some sage words: "If you can't live off 33 million dollars, you can't live."
By the way, the same thing could arguably be said about 32 mil.
Some may remember Ron Artest's 2004 venture into rap music, which led to an ill-conceived request for time off during the season to help promote his debut CD. But despite acknowledging his relish for a stint in the nation's entertainment industry capitol, worries over a repeat gaffe are premature. Artest admitted he handled the situation the "wrong way," and has learned to balance his "passion" for music with keeping sight that basketball is "his first love." RA loves him some limelight and L.A. offers plenty, but priorities are now in order. "I gotta play ball first and everything else comes second."
BK asked Artest if he was concerned that a love for Twitter, YouTube and other public forms of communication could prove a bad combo with Los Angeles, a market where zillion of eyes will be directed towards his back as it is. Not really. "I've been through so much with the media, I'm not worried about people talking about me. I won't be phased. Feel free to write what you want." Artest understands that the media has a job to do, which is sell stories. Sometimes, they're going to be at his expense, particularly taking into account "who I am, what I've been through, certain wrong decisions that I've made."
One of those "wrong decisions" would be his role during the infamous "Palace Brawl." Artest was asked how he's changed since that incident and 73-game suspension. After joking that he no longer lays on the scorer's table, Artest offered a more candid response.
"You know, if you take that brawl away, I've changed anyway. I always want to try and become a better person, if you take the brawl away. And if you put the brawl back into that scenario and situation, that was something that was out of my control. It was totally out of my control, and I'm happy it's over. I'm happy I'm five years removed from that situation. It's a great feeling. It's a great feeling."
(BK's NOTE: Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't believe Artest is saying that the brawl itself was out of his control, meaning he had nothing to do with it. Rather, I think the point he was making is once it was done, there wasn't anything he could do to change it except try to improve as a person. Just my reading, from having been in the room.)
More to come ASAP.
Photo: Ron Artest. Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images