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Ron Artest still soaking in the championship excitement

June 28, 2010 |  8:14 pm

There's not a day that's gone by since Game 7 that Ron Artest hasn't soaked in winning the 2010 championship. The immediate aftermath entailed an emotional, random and wildly entertaining interview with reporters in the locker room as teammates poured beer on him and he drank champagne. It continued into the media room with one of the most memorable postgame news conferences in Finals history. The Lakers forward expressed giddiness over a Wheaties championship cereal box, asked reporters to "acknowledge me" and recounted in elation Kobe Bryant's willingness to pass the ball in what proved to a critical shot in the Lakers' clinching victory.

As soon as the Lakers officially clinched their second consecutive title, forward Lamar Odom says he was "most happy for him" because it helped him further rewrite the notoriety he received during the infamous Brawl at the Palace in 2004, validated the Lakers' off-season acquisition and gave Artest his first ring in his 11-year career. General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Kobe Bryant were among the many people who watched Artest's postgame theatrics and concluded it just represented what he brought to the team.

"He was delightfully different," Kupchak said, "in so many ways."

"That's Ron," Bryant said. "He's a sweetheart, man. He just has such innocence about him and just having such a great time, that's the Ron that we know."

Plenty have gotten to know him more since the title, as Artest released a rap single titled "Champion" and has appeared in numerous television shows and nightclubs to promote it. He's been receiving little to no sleep lately as he's trying to soak in the entire experience. When I asked him if he's considered taking any energy drinks to keep him afloat, Artest said, "I don't like that. I'm afraid my heart might just go fast and then just stop."

Clearly, Artest doesn't want the elation to stop, though he knows the celebration will die down once he returns from a two-week vacation. At that point he'll be back to work preparing for the 2010-2011 season, when he predicts his confidence is "going to be out of the roof," because he contends he finally fully understood the triangle offense in the final week of the NBA playoffs.

"I was waiting to enjoy it because I was telling you I wasn't enjoying the playoffs," Artest said. "I just did not enjoy the ride when I was in it. When I was on the ride, I didn't enjoy it because I was so much focused on the ride itself. Finally I got a chance. When I had that chance, I took advantage of the chance and enjoyed it."

Lately, Artest has appeared in a similar mood as he did when he first signed with the Lakers for a five-year deal worth $33 million. He showed up to his introductory news conference ready to talk all things, including the Lakers, Michael Jackson, TMZ and the infamous Brawl at the Palace. He gave out his private cellphone number during his tour in China and spoke directly to fans. And he arrived in San Diego unaware the city had a baseball team.

Each appearance certainly sparked reactions. If nothing else, it showed he had moved beyond the toxic persona he once projected. Yet, intentional or not, it was during his appearance in San Diego that he provided the framework on how fans should view him in the upcoming season. With the Lakers coming off an NBA championship, Artest told the public to square the blame solely on him if the Lakers didn't repeat in 2010.

"They should. That's exactly what should happen if we don't repeat," he said at the time. "They won last year, and I'm the new addition. The fans expect to repeat. Everybody in L.A. expects a second ring. And if we don't then yeah, they should point it right at me, throwing tomatoes and everything."

Kupchak found the comments unnecessary.

"He put a lot of pressure on himself ... ," Kupchak said. "That part worked out, but that might make it easier next year."

Artest agreed with Kupchak's assessment.

"That was one of the dumbest things I ever did," Artest said. "I was playing with that pressure the whole year. It was cool. I wasn't afraid of it. I wasn't afraid to attack it. I wasn't afraid to fail if I did because I'd go back in the gym and it'd give me a reason to get better."

Yet, he was used to that pressure, such as when he decided to play for St. John's after growing up in Queensbridge, N.Y. He also credited a psychologist for helping him remain calm during Game 7. And Odom, who also grew up in Queensbridge, helped counsel Artest.

"Ron beats to a different drum," Odom said. "So what we all do."

Surely, Artest displayed some of those moments.

There were also head-scratching episodes such as his Christmas night concussion, admission to the Sporting News that he drank Hennessy during games when he played in Chicago (1999-2002) and vented via Twitter about Phil Jackson's public criticism regarding his shot selection.

Still, Kupchak dutifully noted "there were no problems that I'm aware of on the court or off the court."

Instead, Artest's struggles were strictly confined to adjusting to a new team.  He brought the defensive intensity the team expected from him as soon as his plantar fasciitis improved in February. But he remained lost on offense, unsure of how to operate in the triangle and unsure of his role within the team. Each good and bad performance inevitably created a new talking point over whether the Lakers benefited from Artest's arrival or should have found a way to keep Trevor Ariza.

Once the season ended, Artest acknowledged all the struggles in what he termed "playing the right way."

"Sometimes when I would get tired, I would settle," Artest said. "This time in the playoffs when I was tired, I attacked. That's what Coach wanted me to do. He wanted me to attack instead of just settling for jumpers. And he was right."

But that won't be the lasting image regarding Artest's first season with the Lakers. For the general public, it'll entail his elated reaction toward winning a championship. For Bryant, it entails seeing him constantly late at night in the weight room during team trips. And for Kupchak and Odom, it entails the fact that Artest will likely only get better next season.

It's still a few weeks, however, before Artest will think about it. For now, he's still celebrating.

"I'm going to be worn out," Artest said. "I'll see what happens.".

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com


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