Ron Artest and Dennis Rodman have something in common, and that is they have a reputation for being so-called “bad guys.” To those who know the Lakers’ small forward, it’s completely undeserved.
As one of the top defensive specialists in the NBA, Artest will battle an opposing player tooth and nail for inside position, and isn’t shy about pushing and shoving his weight around.
Most times, Artest matches up with the other team’s best point-producer, and usually comes out on top.
Like Rodman, who also played for Head Coach Phil Jackson, Artest doesn’t look at his points, or how well he’s shooting the ball. His concern is whether he shut down, frustrated, and kept the other guy below his average. If he did all that, and the Lakers won, then Artest did his job.
The Lakers have been called soft, especially during the 2008 NBA Finals, which saw Boston bully and beat the Lakers in six games, including Game 6, which was lopsided.
That’s why Artest, a one-time St. John’s star, was added to the starting lineup: supply mental and physical toughness.
Now in his 11th season, Artest, at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, has helped the Lakers (46-18) to the best record in the Western Conference, despite three consecutive road losses, including last Sunday’s 96-94 setback at Orlando.
Artest tallied eight points with six rebounds against the Magic, and is averaging 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
Not known as a pure scorer, Artest has only topped 20 points three times this season. On Nov. 3, Artest dropped in 20 points in a 101-98 win over Oklahoma City on the road, then poured in 22 points 12 days later in a 101-91 loss to Houston at Staples Center, and then added 21 points Feb. 6 in a 99-82 triumph at Portland.
Drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 16th pick in 1999, Artest seems to have found a home with the defending champion Lakers, and has enjoyed playing with Kobe Bryant, a former nemesis during his three seasons with the Sacramento Kings, and his one season with the Houston Rockets.
Artest is gunning for his first NBA title, and excluding Sunday’s game, is shooting 41.8 percent from the floor, and 38 percent from the three-point line.
Artest played two-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, and averaged 12 points his rookie campaign, 11.9 in his second season, and 15.6 with the Bulls and the Indiana Pacers.
Artest left Indiana after the 2006 season, and only played 23 games with the Pacers over his last two years.
In Nov. 2004, in a game at the Detroit Pistons, Artest was one of several players involved in the now infamous, “Malice at the Palace.”
The incident was both sickening and troubling, and one in which Artest and several Pacers fought with players, and even went into the stands and threatened fans.
Of course, Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season. Two years later, he signed with the Kings, and saw his average skyrocket to 16.9 points in his initial season, followed by 18.8 and 20.5.
Artest wears number 37 because that’s how many weeks Michael Jackson’s top-selling album “Thriller,’’ was No. 1.
Like Jackson’s masterpiece, it would be fitting if Artest and his new club sit atop the basketball world come June.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.