Ron Artest: A new take on the “International Man of Mystery”
More on the international part later, but the mystery of course, is what’s going on in that brain of his. His plans seem to change on a whim, and he’s somehow managed to change from NBA bad boy and the face of “thug life” to a clownish philanthropist. Ron Artest’spublic perception has morphed into the “old grandpa” of the NBA. He’s the fun old guy at the party, who might say or do something a little outlandish, but hey, it’s just grandpa, you can’t be mad at him. I’ve heard numerous times from fans and analysts alike, “Oh that’s just Ron Ron being Ron Ron. I think it’s funny/silly/harmless etc”. Where once he was the focal point of fan anger, he’s now dismissed from public scorn as a goofball.
The problem for Lakers fans, of course, is that the old grandpas of the world don’t play for the most prestigious NBA franchise. To make matters worse, and beyond any amount of fun-loving goofiness, is the shear fact that Artest just can’t play basketball at a high level anymore. Mitch Kupchak has made a lot of great moves during his time as the Lakers GM, but letting Trevor Ariza go for Ron Artest (at virtually the same amount of money) was not one of them.
Artest is set to make about $6.8 million next year, and has a player option (which he would be crazy not to pick up) after this year for two more years at an average of $7.5 million. I had to do a double take on those last two years, because I thought that I was seeing things. All of the for a player that John Hollinger described at the beginning of LAST YEAR as “Mediocre outside shooter. Good handle but can't jump and struggles at basket.” As we all saw last year, not much new to report on that front, but only that his trademark defensive skills took a marked downturn as well. (By the way, “can’t jump”? This is basketball, right?)
Thankfully in this case, the NBA lockout has intervened. Ron Artest has recently stated via Twitter and an LA Times interview, that he plans on playing basketball in Europe during the lockout. Off to Germany or Turkey or Italy with one of those big time clubs right? Nope. Artest is looking to head to Jolly Old England and the Cheshire Jets of the BBL for an estimated $1,500 to $2,500 a month. But wait, don’t forget about his stop to play with a team in Finland for a week in September. Why Finland you may ask? Because it’s the cleanest country in the world of course!
But back to England. As part of the deal with the Jets, the club will help Artest get into the British music and television industry, even trying to land him a role on a British soap opera. After living in the UK for a year, I can definitely tell you that Ron Artest’s chances of making a big splash across the pond in any sort of way is miniscule. Unfortunately for Ron Ron, he couldn’t have picked a worse country to go to just based on name recognition alone. Basketball is viewed on par with swimming or track and field, and not a single NBA game can be found on a British television other than in an American themed pub. They also only have like 4 TV stations in the UK. BBC1 and BBC2 are nearly unwatchable, with a constant stream of news or documentaries. One of the channels is also almost exclusively dedication to the show Big Brother, which is about the only thing other than soccer that people watch. (Speaking of which, Ron Artest on Big Brother? I’m in!)
Also while I was over there (2006-7), my bosses daughter was having her 10th birthday party. They had just moved over from the US as well, and she was a huge Lakers fan. So they had her party at the local gym, and asked us to put on something of a clinic for the kids. Not one of those kids at that party had ever even DRIBBLED a basketball, let alone knew how to shoot, pass, or any concept of the rules. The beautiful clinic we had laid out turned into bounce passes and chest passes, and finished with a “game” where traveling was the norm. Would any of those kids have known who Ron Artest was? Definitely not. Hell, they wouldn’t have known who Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant was either.
So what does it all mean for Ron Ron? Weirdly, I kind of get it. He’ll get to go to a few countries that he wants to go visit in Europe, play in a place where they actually speak English, and have approximately zero pressure to perform well. If he gets beaten badly by an opposing player, he’ll only shrug it off and claim that he wasn’t really trying too hard, and that the REAL season is the NBA season. He’ll get to maintain his quirkiness, in a place that will be accepting of his fringe behavior. Will he be able to build his “brand”, as so many players are now looking to do? Probably not. But what is his “brand” in the US anyway?
Lakers fans can only hope that his potential new role on British television takes hold, and maybe they can take his untradeable contract off of their books. Because as of now, Artest will only be remembered by Lakers fans for his 3-pointer late in Game 7 against the Celtics, his post championship brain dump where he thanked his therapist and generally lost whatever shred of a filter he still had, and a total of 5 years of offensive futility. I don’t know if he’ll be able to flash that Cheshire Cat smile to Lakers fans and get a pass on his ineffectiveness for too much longer.
- Mark Slattery
ChatSports.com Senior Writer
BONUS: Here are some highlights of the Cheshire Jets. I couldn't find any of their highlights, so these are highlights from another team's perspective. The BBL everyone!