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Ron Artest's decision to raffle off his championship ring should be lauded

October 26, 2010 |  8:17 am


Countless people have approached Ron Artest and asked a variation of this question: Why are you going to raffle off your championship ring?

They already know this answer: Artest will begin a raffle Oct. 27, when fans can purchase a minimum of five raffle tickets for $2 each through Artest's website. Those proceeds will benefit Xcel University, a charity Artest supports, with funds directed toward two as-yet-determined mental-health causes. And a lucky fan on Christmas will then keep Artest's 2010 championship ring, which has been custom-made for size 11 instead of his own size 14, so it would be easier for the average fan to fit the ring on his or her finger.

But many of the public still ask. They want to understand why Artest would give away a prized possession he's finally earned after a adversarial 11-year career. They want to know why the Lakers' ring ceremony before the season opener Tuesday night at Staples Center would mark the only time he'd wear it. And they want to see if there's any alternative he's willing to accept, so he doesn't regret giving away his ring while also raising funds for mental-health charities.

Artest acknowledged his wife is among those concerned, so he plans to make a duplicate ring for her. He's shared that plenty of fans, in person and on Twitter, have asked him to reconsider even though it gives them the chance to own a piece of Lakers' hardware themselves. The Lakers, meanwhile, have publicly and affectionately shared their support for Artest's decision to give away the ring on Christmas, even though that's not what they plan to do with their own rings. And the media for the last two weeks, including myself, have clamored to hear about this giveaway, while openly questioning whether he's really thought this thing through.

"We did what we had to do last year to win a championship, and it presents all these opportunities and these ideas," Artest said. "For it to go toward mental-health awareness, I'm pretty happy about that. That's already in motion."

But why, Ron? Why give away something you've wanted for so long? I wondered, at first, if it was the initial public attention he craved. And if there would be future regrets about losing a symbol of a high point of his career and how sad that would be.

Yet, after listening to Artest talk about this during interviews over the last two weeks, I'm convinced he's made the right decision. If it were me, I couldn't give away something so meaningful. But Artest should be lauded for his generosity and because he's doing this for the right reasons.

As the NBA gears up for a potential lockout next season, Artest shows he's thinking beyond wealth and material goods. The general public and the media may have become numb to the narcissism that permeates our sports culture, but Artest's gesture trumps self-interest. As other athletes try to reshape a battered image by winning, hiring a new publicist or just plain stonewalling the media and fans, Artest takes a real step toward altering an earlier toxic persona -- notably his involvment in Malice at the Palace, the 2004 Pacers-Pistons brawl.

"You look at the impact I made already with the whole cause, I think you'd do the same thing," Artest said. "I didn't think it was going to be like that. I didn't plan on it being such a major response. I had no idea. But even had I known that, I would still do it and give other things away. It was for short-term impact that hopefully will lead to long-term impact. Now it's getting out of control, but in a good way."

Artest's ring giveaway has earned him plaudits. He's been given the keys to the city of Las Vegas, has met with former President Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and appeared at Eastmont Intermediate School in Montebello, where he spoke to students about the mental-health issues he has dealt with since age 13. Artest said his brush with community efforts spurred him to want to do more, particularly after Clinton expressed admiration for the player's story of redemption.

It's stuff like this that has added to Artest's reputation of late as a well-intentioned guy, as well as a lovable and goofy teammate with his participation in a local dodgeball tournament,  laughing it up on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" or his legendary Game 7 post-game press conference.

"Ron's always has more than one thing going on at one time," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "It's good for him. I think it keeps him interested in the game, and I think it keeps him involved in the community. The one thing about him is he doesn't want to be bored. He won't bore you, that's for sure."

Said Lakers guard Derek Fisher: Artest "enjoys bringing joy to other people and doing little random acts of kindness. ... Basically he wanted to create a situation where he wanted to be as hungry or more hungry to win another [championship] as he was to win the first one. So he figured let me give away the first [ring] and I'll be hungry to get another one. It makes sense if you think about it. I won't be doing it, but it makes sense."

But the attention and the motivation he can draw from wanting to win another ring aren't primarily dictating this initiative. Artest is giving up something huge for a cause he strongly believes supporting. It's one thing for Artest to promote the Mental Health in Schools Act, which would provide $200 million in funding. It's another thing for him to openly discuss his own issues and insecurities growing up, leaving him vulnerable to judgments and scrutiny. It's one thing for Artest to raffle off just any piece of memorabilia for a Lakers fan, making it a feel-good story for all. It's another thing for him to give away an irreplaceable item.

"Ron's always going to do what's in his heart," said Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who knew Artest growing up near his hometown in Queens, N.Y. "Winning a championship, we won't ever forget it. The ring could be considered something that's materialistic. That's not important to Ron.

"He's doing it for a charity and a good cause," Odom continued. "That's what should be talked about."

So maybe I'm still holding out hope even now that Artest will reconsider. But I can't help but respect his decision. And the Lakers could find a lesson here. The cause Artest supports is of greater consequence than the Lakers' quest for another championship, but his actions show the type of steadfastness and sacrifice needed for the team to accomplish its own goal.

"It's an important issue and something I grew up around," Artest said of his cause. "It's important to my life and neighborhood. I thought it was a good thing to do for teenagers and young kids. I thought it was a good thing. ... The championship, you can never take that away from somebody."

-- Mark Medina

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Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest is introduced at Eastmont Intermediate School, where he spoke to students about the mental-health issues he has dealt with since age 13. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times