Free Ron Artest

Let me first address the counter-arguments before presenting the argument to which these arguments run counter: Because he went apeshit nuts, jumped into the stands and punched those guys in the face. Because he crippled a team with Finals aspirations. Because he supposedly abused his dog. Because he definitely abused his wife. Because he made that rap album.

Now the pitch: Free Ron Artest.

We are not a nation that forgives easily. Tara Reid could go back to school, get her MBA and open a successful chain of specialty latke shops but, to most of the world, she’ll always be that drunk D-lister who showed her back alley boobjob on the red carpet. The same is true of Ron Artest; he showed us his boobs and many of us will never forgive him.

What makes this inability to forgive Artest bizarre is the fact that we’re apparently willing to forgive every other player in the sport. For example, Jamal Tinsley was involved in his third gun-related incident in a year this week. The Pacers opted to take no disciplinary action on the grounds that he’s a grown man and if he wants to stay out late and participate in activities which may cause this type of incident, that’s his business. While being shot at may not be Tinsley’s fault, captaining a posse in pursuit of the shooters, one which returned fire after the fact, falls squarely in his lap. Were this the NFL, Tinsley would likely be suspended immediately but here in the Association, he gets apologias from local columnists and a “Keep your nose clean” from Larry Legend.

We’re willing to overlook the worst if their best is worth our attention. I’m not passing judgement on this forgiveness trend, only pointing out that it exists. Exhibit A: Stephen Jackson. Jax violated probation, fired guns in a strip club parking lot and jumped into the stands and punched a few guys. Oh, and he also has a tattoo of two praying hands holding a gun on his abdomen. Why are we willing to look the other way with Jackson or Tinsley and not Artest?

Three reasons: Exposure, Emphasis, Opportunity.

1. Exposure: It’s easy to forgive when facts are vague. It’s easier because you’re not completely sure for what you’re granting forgiveness, just that you ARE granting that forgiveness and, when new facts come to light that sway your opinion, you reserve the right to retract that forgiveness with a, “Had I known he did X,…” With Artest, every transgression is is well documented. We have photos of the dog he supposedly abused. We have a recording of the 9-1-1 call his wife made after he supposedly hit her. Oh yeah, and he beat the bejesus out of some fans on national television. We don’t get to say, “Well, he only shot a gun into the air that one time or so I heard and I’m sure it was justified under the circumstances, whatever they may be, so he’s a-okay in my book.” To forgive Ron Artest, we actually have to forgive him.

2. Emphasis: The only negative sports story this century bigger than the Malice at the Palace is baseball’s current steroid debacle. Images of Ron Artest swinging wildly at  guys in replica Pistons jerseys were plastered all over SportsCenter and USAToday. Eight other men were suspended by the NBA for their actions that night. Anyone remember the game Reggie Miller or Chauncy Billups sat out? Me neither.

This incident became “The Artest Melee” and for valid reasons. He committed the hard foul against Ben Wallace when the game was all but over. He lay on the scorer’s table while the issue was hashed out. He was the first into the stands when the cup of beer hit him in the chest. He was the instigator of much of this and that’s why “Artest = brawl” in the public consciousness.

Were Artest a bigger star, this might not be the case. Jordan lost millions gambling. Kobe was tried for rape. Patrick Ewing got blow jobs at strip clubs. When the book is written on these superstars, these won’t be the first words written. (The first words- threepeat, 81, profuse sweating.) This isn’t the case for Artest. The fault lie not in the stars but in himself that he was not enough of one.

 3. Opportunity How can Ron-Ron repair his image? The only way is on the hardwood. He needs to do or be part of something spectacular. Not to make us overlook his past but to give us something to focus on other than his past. “Top defender with good range for a big man and considerably better shot selection than in past years” doesn’t outweigh “wife-beating, dog-abusing, fan punching thug.” In Sacramento, he’s behind Kevin Martin in ability and both Martin and Mike Bibby in reporters’ ink. There is no chance to rehab his image in SacTown but consider this scenario: Sacramento sends Artest and cash to Chicago for Tyrus Thomas, Viktor Khryapa and JamesOn Curry. Sacramento gets a guy who could develop into Artest for half the cash and Chicago gets to drop a consistent resident of Skiles’ doghouse and gets a top defender with good range for a big man and considerably better shot selection than in past years. It may not push them over the top but it might help them limp into the play-offs. And once you’re in the playoffs, it’s a completely different season. Go ask Stephen Jackson and the Warriors.

It’s time to forgive Artest. Straight up. He’ll never be the shiny penny he never was in the first place but, if basketball is willing to forgive everyone else, basketball needs to give Artest a real shot at redemption. Blackhawk Down.

Explore posts in the same categories: Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Leaguewide issues, Sacramento Kings

One Comment on “Free Ron Artest”

  1. […] interview with The Starting Five’s Michael Tillery, Ron-Ron provides evidence for a proposal we made a while back. As much damage as I’ve–and the media–created, people need to see a different […]

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