Artest To Be Tested

By Rick Sarlat
Updated: September 19, 2005

Ron ArtestNEW YORK, NY—Ron Artest has always conceded an allegiance to his tough upbringing in Long Island City, New York’s infamous Queensbridge Projects. He wears the term “ghetto” like a badge of honor and even once rationalized his oft-thuggish behavior by saying, “I’m not trying to get into any Cheerio or Coca-Cola commercials. I want to do a commercial in the hood.”

But after being suspended for practically the entire 2004-2005 season for his role in, quite possibly, the ugliest melee in the history of North American sport, the embattled Indiana Pacers star forward has been given an ultimatum, of sorts.

“That took a lot out of my career,” admitted Artest, who lost over $6 million in salary when he was banished from the Pacer’s final 73 regular season games and 13 playoff games after running into the stands to fight with a fan during a game with the Detroit Pistons last November. “So, obviously something like that can’t happen again. It just can’t happen again.”

Those were apparently the terms under which Artest was reinstated after meeting with NBA commissioner David Stern this summer.

“The meeting went very well,” Artest said. “I understand what I have to do. Keep focused on basketball. If somebody throws something at me, as long as I don’t get hurt, I’ll be fine. I’ll be able to deal with it. The main thing is to stay focused on the team and basketball.”

Artest has apparently already begun the arduous task of tidying up his image. At his alma mater, St. John’s University, last week participating in the annual Wheelchair Basketball Charity Game, he went into the crowd, upon invitation this time, to sign autographs. Days later, Artest joined some of the NBA’s brightest stars, including Lebron James, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady, for a charity basketball game in Houston to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Each player donated at least $10,000.

“I just wanted to do something to help the kids,” Artest told reporters at the event. “It’s good to see people happy.”

About last year’s brawl and subsequent suspension, Artest maintained that he is at times two different people. The volatile competitor, or the humanitarian.

“That night [in Detroit] was Ron Artest but this night is Ron Artest, too,” he said. “In different situations I am different people. I can’t say one is me, they both are.”

Although Artest has been cleared to play when the season begins in a little over a month, the fiasco is far from over. Criminal charges stemming from the brawl still hang in the balance for five Pacers players. Charged with misdemeanor assault and battery are Artest , Anthony Johnson, Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal and David Harrison.

Johnson appeared in a Rochester Hills, Michigan courtroom last Friday and pleaded no contest to the charges. By pleading no contest, Johnson did not admit to any guilt, but will be sentenced as such. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 7. He faces a maximum of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Pretrial hearings for Artest, Harrison, Jackson and O’Neal are scheduled for Sept. 23. They also face a maximum penalty of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. The players may plead guilty, but those pleas could be used in a civil suit, according to reports, so it is unlikely.