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Ron Artest striving to maintain balance with devotion to basketball and rap music

March 31, 2011 |  6:48 am

Each time Lakers forward Ron Artest patrolled the sideline, an anxious George Lopez awaited him.

The Lakers entered the first extra session in what became a 139-137 triple overtime victory last week against the Phoenix Suns, but Artest promised the game would end soon. He and Lopez wanted to immediately head to the Beacher's Madhouse Theater at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood where they'd film a music video to their newly released single, "Go Loco." 

But that had to wait, with each overtime fueling even more uncertainty they would pull it off. The second overtime prompted Artest to promise Lopez the game wouldn't last longer. It did. Then the third overtime didn't end until shortly after 11 p.m, meaning Artest's two- to three-hour music-video shoot lasted until 7:30 a.m. It sounds tiring enough reading about it. It prompts the question: How on Earth does Artest live it? It's a concern that was elevated when he tweeted the release of his Ball'N mixtape immediately following the Lakers' loss to Cleveland before the All-Star break, a performance that's universally deemed the team's most embarrassing effort all season.

"There's no balance," Artest said. "It's your life. The balance in your life is where's the focus. How do you focus. I do spread myself thin a lot."

"That's one reason why I stopped drinking alcohol. If I want to do all of these things, I can't do that and party not even a little bit. Every now and then I may occasionally socialize a little bit. But for the most part, I cut that out. Ever since I cut that out, I'm able to balance and focus more.

"The balance in my life is erratic. It is what it is, but I do work hard on my game. The good thing about basketball is you don't want to overtrain. There's only so much I can do working out. If you do too much, you won't be ready for the game anyway. You'll be tired and fatigued."

Incidentally, Artest's effort against Phoenix showed he's capable of doing both, although it's often come with mixed results. His 18-point performance on seven-of-14 shooting with three steals capped an effort where he's exceeded his season average since the All-Star break in points (10.35, 8.4), shooting percentage (42.5%, 40.2%) and playing time (32.43, 29) in each contest. His on-court antics -- blowing kisses to the 18,997 at Staples Center and kissing his biceps following a dunk -- explains how he's suited to his own music video. And the fact that he didn't return home until 7:30 a.m. shouldn't be worrisome, considering he slept for most of the next day on the Lakers' day off.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it is. On a much grander scale, Artest performed similar heroics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. After he recorded 20 points on seven-of-18 shooting, five steals and held Boston's Paul Pierce to 18 points on a five-of-15 clip, Artest followed with a memorable post-game press conference where was giddy over a Wheaties Box, owned up to his transgressions with the Indiana Pacers and, most memorably, thanked his psychologist for all the work she put in during the 2009-10 season.

His night was far from over, however. He had dinner with his family, attended two clubs and then ended up in Dr. Dre's studio between 5 and 6 a.m. where the legendary hip hop producer mixed his single, "Champion."

"He asked me, 'Are you sleeping?'" Artest recalled Dre saying. "I said, 'Dre I'm tired, man.' But I didn't want to tell him because I didn't know the next opportunity I would get to finish that song."

Even if future undisclosed tracks weren't completed, at least "Champion" was. The immediate reaction sounded positive. Dre's son, Curtis, as well as Master P and Romeo all said at Magic Johnson's party at Trousdale Lounge in West Hollywood a week after the single's release that they loved Artest's work, an effort Artest said the hip hop community told him was his "best song."

Artest may have placed more importance at the time in recording his album "My World" with Tru Warier Records in 2006 than his stint with the Indiana Pacers, but his approach toward his mixtape proved different. He offered no more than limited verses on his mixtape, including his single "Peanut Butta," and concentrated more on securing guests.

"Anybody could sound good on a mixed tape," Artest said. "We made George sound great. I could've put Phil Jackson on the mix tape. We would've made Phil sound great."

There's no Zen Master appearance, but the final product features a guest list that reads as both a who's-who among the rap community and upcoming artists: Nas, Gucci Mane, Ray J, Fat Joe, Bun B, Tony Yayo, Lloyd, Chamillionaire, 36 Mafia and Paul Wall, G-Unit, 
Aventura, and Taz

"Obviously being here and being around a lot of rappers, he has a few more connections than I have," said Lakers forward Joe Smith, who also appeared on the mixtape in "This Is What It Sounds Like" and "We Will Rock You." "He’s been helping me out with that. Ron is pretty serious in it as well."

So serious that he uses rap as an outlet for his ongoing therapy. So serious that he plans on releasing an "inspirational" song before the playoffs. So serious that he scored an appearance on the music video of Snoop Dogg's and Game's "Purp & Yellow," a video Artest said only took up a half-hour of his time. And so serious that Artest had a studio installed in his car when he played with the Houston Rockets in the 2008-09 season. 

"You remember your verse before you get in the car while you're driving," Artest said. "But sometimes if I can't get something out, I'll just pull over and finish the whole song right in the car. It's similar to a Bluetooth, you're just talking. You're not texting or not writing. You're pretty much rapping. You can press stop or press play."

A perfect metaphor for Artest's ongoing and mixed effort in balancing his two passions.

--Mark Medina