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Ron Artest validates his arrival to the Lakers with an NBA championship

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In raw elation, Lakers forward Ron Artest stood in the locker room eager to share any story that popped into his head.

A random anecdote usually emerged based on whomever he saw. When Artest's wife showed up and stood by his side, he revealed how his workouts often came at the expense of family time and dinners. When Lakers special assistant Chuck Person offered congratulations, Artest fondly recalled the special shooting sessions three hours he had before games in hopes to improve his form and shot selection so that he could pull out of his funk. And when his brother, Daniel Artest, shook his hands, Ron burst out in laughter, recalling an episode that happened this postseason where Daniel argued with Houston forward Trevor Ariza via Twitter over whether the Lakers ultimately benefited from signing Artest this off-season to a five-year, $33-million deal.

"I just called it how I see it," Daniel said, laughing.

I had long resisted supporting or refuting that claim, believing the debate between Ariza vs. Artest had to be measured within the context of a whole season. Though it was inevitable that the comparisons would turn up throughout the season, much of the conversation appeared to operate on a pendulum. Artest served as a good addition when he locked down an opponent's top scorer, had a hot shooting night or showed improvement running the triangle offense. He served as a bad addition whenever he had an off defensive night or made head-scratching decisions on offense. It was frankly far too early to have a definitive conclusion because all those performances represented scattered snapshots of a conflicting picture. It revealed a well-intentioned player intermittently channeling that passion into either a bad or good performance.

But as Artest frequently clutched the championship trophy following the Lakers' 83-79 Game 7 victory over Boston on Thursday, a few things remained clear. The Lakers finished on the winning end of the essential Ariza-Artest swap. Ariza in last year's postseason averaged 11.3 points, shot 47.6% from three-point range, and had two memorable steals off inbounds passes late in Games 1 and 3 of the Western Conference finals against Denver. In this year's postseason, Artest averaged 11.2 points a game on 39.8%, but his presence went beyond the box score, providing the defensive toughness the Lakers sorely needed.

Another thing also became clear. The random anecdotes Artest shared in the locker room and in his postgame news conference occurred whenever a family member, friend or teammate appeared nearby, revealing Artest leaned on a wide supporting cast to help him bring his 11-year career full circle after his persona was mostly defined by his infamous Malice at the Palace.

"Everything I've been through?" Artest pondered for a second. "Wow."

In 2004 as an Indiana Pacer, Artest went into the Pistons crowd after beer was thrown at him and punched a fan. The incident sparked an 86-game suspension, the longest penalty for a physical altercation in NBA history, and he received a year's probation for pleading no contest to assault charges. Fast forward to 2010, and you have Lakers reserve center DJ Mbenga pouring beer in the locker room over Artest's head. But the circumstances were much different. Artest was soaked in alcohol this time because he proved largely instrumental in bringing the Lakers the 2010 title. On a night the team collectively shot 32.5% and Kobe Bryant went six of 24 from the field, Artest had 20 points on seven-of-18 shooting and held Boston forward Paul Pierce to 18 points on a five-of-15 clip.  

"For the most part, I didn't see Ron tire out there," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "I thought he played with good energy in a game in which he had to play a lot of minutes, and he's played consistent minutes throughout."

Artest provided much more than that. He hit a key three-pointer to give the Lakers a 79-73 lead with 1:01 remaining in the fourth quarter. He provided five steals, which eclipsed the two assists from Bryant, which speaks to strong and aggressive defense Artest played as well as Bryant's unhealthy tendency with trying to do too much on his own. And with a team that played way too hard and way too tight, Artest appeared the only comfortable Laker at the beginning of the game. No doubt, none of the Lakers had ever experienced a Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and Jackson predicted the team would go through unanticipated events. But no one thought Artest would become the calming presence on a team as he sought his first ring. 

"I'm just happy that he was able to win his first championship, and you could see it in his face," Lakers power forward Pau Gasol said. "He's like a little kid right now that got his dream come true, like we all did."

Artest wore a similar look on his face after Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against Phoenix when he made the game-winning shot. But his happiness after that game became as fleeting as his rise from goat to hero. He launched an ill-advised three-pointer in the final minute of that game as the Lakers nursed a three-point lead with 22 seconds on the shot clock. He then responded with a put-back off Bryant's missed three-pointer with 0.8 of a second remaining. 

Artest's happiness this time appeared permanent. He kissed the championship trophy as he sat by his locker. He brought out a bottle of champagne soon after, eager to drink from it moments before instructing one of his sons never to drink alcohol. And he arrived at his postgame news conference with his large family, showing giddiness as he stared at a Wheaties box featuring every member of the Lakers. 

But this wasn't just a moment of celebration for Artest. It was an opportunity for him to shed his past misgivings. He immediately thanked God for winning the championship. He then apologized to Indiana for "betraying them" when he requested to be traded after the 2005 season. Moments earlier in the locker room, he credited NBA Commissioner David Stern for allowing him to stay in the league. And he credited the help of a sports psychologist in helping him remain calm this season.

"Today is one of those days where I trusted in myself and I didn't settle for some shots," Artest said. "I kind of at the right time did exactly what Coach wanted me to do."

As a result, Artest earned his first NBA championship and definitively validated the Lakers' 2009 off-season decisions. But Artest won't talk about the latter part, so much as the people who helped him get to this point. But sooner or later, Artests runs out of time in telling his story. The Lakers spokesperson wants to wrap up the news conference. Artest's family wants to get something to eat. And Artest finally has nothing left to say. 

"I wish I had a more powerful voice," he said. "Then I could scream more."

But it wasn't needed. The performance he showed and the stories he shared told it all.

--Mark Medina

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

Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest goes after a loose ball along with Celtics guard Ray Allen during Game 7 on Thursday night at Staples Center. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (214)

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Thanks for the props Caliphilosopher....

Everyone is happy and in a merry mood, and this idiot Ricky coming in and talking bull-crap.... Tough to tolerate ignorance when you in exuberance!!

Zen: always aim high...always aim high. I'm ready for a 3-peat

East Coast: we need all our players back, especially Fisher. With Kobe's protection, Fish isn't going anywhere.

Mark: We haven't seen Bynum at his best...jury is still out on him (in a good way).

I loved RonRon's presser last night. And I for one can not wait for Ron-Obama next year!

To: Red's Love Child, 131-92 aka 83-79, Peace, jimjoyce, and Todd and ALL THOSE WHO DOUBTED KOBE BRYANT, DEREK FISHER (ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO COMPARED HIM TO SMUSH AND KWAMAY BROWN DURING THE REGULAR SEASON), PAU GASOL, RON ARTEST (AND TO THAT DUDE WHO CALLED HIM A BUST ON 710 AM ESPN)AND THE REST OF THE LA LAKERS WOULD WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP:

-- KB Blitz

KB Blitz.

What in the blue hell are you talking about? Have you been paying attention the last 3 seasons?

I had my issues with Kobe Bryant for a long time. But 37 months ago I laid those aside, based primarily on what Shaq said supporting Kobe. Before D-Fish came back. Before Pau returned. Et cetera.

And as Mamba24 can tell you, I've always supported Derek Fisher. To say the least.

So unless you've missed some things, and it's clear you have, I fail to see any reason for your putting my name in your mouth.

correction: before Pau ARRIVED.

Check the database for my comments around June of 2007. And everything I've said since.

funny from klac:

Michael Jordan - 6 Rings
Kobe Byrant - 5 Rings
Adam Morrison - 2 Rings
LeBron James - 0 Rings

Lewstr's...............So glad we all got on the Victoy train one more time this year, our next stop 2011 final's for our 2nd BACK to BACK to BACK. One last final HURRAH on Mon. For our GREAT LAKER team...I'm going to miss the Laker faithful. Now we can all relax and have a great Summer. I have a feeling we won't be hearing from the Celtic's for a loonng time. They were some sick people. Saw on Bleacher Report that David Stern rigged that game. That would be a first for the Laker's. Poor people have to blame some one.

@DowntownLakerD,

Does this means that Morrison is better than LBJ!

LMAO!

TOP FIVE FROM SILVER LAKE MIKE:

1. Silver Lake Mike at 9:11 AM June 17, 2010: We're going to do LA a favor and win. The city won't have to pay for any parades and no cop cars will get overturned and burned on Figueroa. Don't bother thanking us, we're just givers that way!


2. Silver Lake Mike at 9:39 AM June 16, 2010: Boston fan here. I'm not running. Good win Lakers. I'll make you a deal, if you guys win on Thursday, I promise not to whine about the reffing. However, when we win, will you do the same?


3. Silver Lake Mike at 3:27 PM June 14, 2010: Celticsin6 has a nice ring to it!


4.Silver Lake Mike at 9:53 AM June 14, 2010: That bum (Pierce) is going to look awfully good raising the trophy on LA's home floor.


5. Silver Lake Mike at 9:37 AM May 26, 2010 : If you don't like what is happening now, wait until Perkins and Garnett arrive, they are going pimp slap Gasol and Bynum, steal their money, drive home in their cars, and play house with their girlfriends. You'll really have something to cry about in the finals. Celtics in 6! You heard it here first, crybabies!

**********************************

Bwahahahahaha!

Awesome win...and the guy who didn't appear to be overwhelmed by the moment tells us his psychiatrist helped him focus and calm down...NOTE to the coaches....a little meditation, the help of a shrink...whatever!! For Ron-ron, it worked...am certain he is happy to have played a HUGE role in the win. As the "new kid on the block", how sweet that his play helped get them over the hump.

B2B...nothing like it...other than 3-PEAT!!

LAKERS!!!

Move on people. The important thing is the Sox crushed the Dodgers tonight
and NFL training camps are right around the corner. You guys must really look forward to pro football season.

Boston deserves a lot of credit for their infernal defense and never giving up
Boston deserves scorn for some of the dirty stuff they would do, such as Pierce intentionally tripping Pau in game 6 and trying to cause an Artest Meltdown
Artest deserves a world of praise for not falling for Pierce's dirty crp and for completely neutralizing him which was a major factor.
The Lakers deserve credit for learning from 2008 and not sitting on the behinds (unlike Orlando which didn't learn its lesson from 2009 and exited even earlier), improving on their weaknesses until they convincingly defeating their main nemesis.
This is the sweetest of all the Lakers championships that I have witnessed. Honey sweet. First kiss sweet. Everlasting sweet. Unbelievably sweet.

 
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