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Ron Artest debuts his PSA on mental health awareness

December 22, 2010 |  1:40 pm

Lakers forward Ron Artest stared at the camera and spoke in a confident and inviting manner.

"Talk to somebody about it. I did," Artest said in a new public service announcement titled "You Can Do It" to promote mental health awareness. "Take the first steps and be a champ."

Artest approached the lectern at the Target Terrace in L.A. Live on Tuesday and shared his personal story in the same open manner.

"It feels like I'm playing in a game, an intense, emotional game that I love. The passion for the game,  I give that same passion to ...  mental health issues," Artest said before donating a $50,000 check to Pacific Clinics. "It feels good. It's hard to explain, but it feels good to have a chance to give back, to give someone else a chance."

When producer Gary Foster received a call this summer from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to make a PSA, he immediately remembered Artest's visit Sept. 8 to Eastern Intermediate School in Montebello, where Artest spoke to students about the mental health issues he has dealt with since age 13. "He's authentic," said Foster, who also produced "The Soloist." "When you hear him speak, there's zero artifice to it."

Gary Foster on Ron Artest PSA

When L.A. County Department of Mental Health director Marvin J. Southard met with the National Alliance on Mental Illness on Wednesday morning, a significant portion of the meeting entailed gushing over Artest's PSA and his willingness to speak openly about his own struggles growing up. "Mental illness is such a frightening prospect to people," Southard said. "The more people talk about their story [and getting help] ...  that's the message that needs to happen."

The immediate result: A half hour after Artest promoted his PSA, he sat in the Lakers locker room with reporters hovering around, wanting to hear about the latest on his efforts to raffle off his championship ring (the raffle has raised $553,624 and the winner will be announced Christmas morning) and his plans to host various charity events, including in New York, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Detroit. The latter city represents "the scar I left there," as Artest put it, referring to the brawl he was involved in as a member of the Indiana Pacers, for which he drew a 75-game suspension.

"It's kind of overwhelming," Artest said. "I'm trying to be responsible with the message and do it in a way I'm not trying to take away from the team. That's been the hardest part. It's so much every day. It's a good message, but sometimes it takes away from what we're trying to do sometimes. It's still a good thing, though. It's something I have to work through and get it back to basketball. I'm glad it's that rather than trade talk, Ron Artest demands a trade, Ron Artest is in the locker room doing this, Ron Artest flagrant foul. I'd rather it be this than anything. That's why it's kind of cool."

Artest demonstrated the tough juggling act Tuesday when he arrived to the promotional event 30 minutes late because of heavy traffic ("When it rains in L.A., people forget how to drive"). After that came the Lakers' 98-79 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, which left Artest and his teammates collectively embarrassed. And it'll continue when he's finalizing his championship raffle the morning of the Lakers' Christmas Day game against Miami.

But all that hasn't caused him to hold back. 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 recently revealed he's going to donate an undisclosed amount of his salary toward more mental health causes.

"We sat down and did a 40-minute interview for the L.A. County website," Foster said of Artest, who joked he wants to star in a movie directed by Foster titled "Lost in the Triangle. "He didn't duck any questions. He was very honest about his own personal experiences and why it matters to him. And he's a star. He's been in L.A. for a year and suddenly everyone knows Ron's name."

-- Mark Medina

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