Ron Artest Q+A Part 2
On Bill Walton, Gilbert Arenas and his hopes for a football career.
by Chris O’Leary/@olearychris
As we jump into Part 2 of the Q & A with Ron, there’s a fact that we all need to reside ourselves to.
The world of basketball is Bill Walton’s and we’re all just paying rent in it.
I have every confidence that when a basketball fan’s time on Earth ends, he/she will ascend to The Big Game In The Sky and find out that Bill Walton sits at the center of the basketball universe, stringing together occurrences with perfect amounts of irony and big man-centric justice.
The world’s most verbose color analyst extracted his justice on me in L.A. I was at the Lakers’ season-opener on Oct. 26 and I crossed paths with Walton in the pre-game. Yao Ming was warming up and Walton was watching him. We passed one another and I said hi to him like I knew him. He said hello back, probably like he does to all of the people who greet him like they think they know him. He made his way over to the Lakers’ side of the court and hollered at Ron Artest. The two hugged, spoke for a minute and Walton walked away. Then it hit me.
Walton called the Malice at The Palace game back in 2004. As Steven Jackson and Artest were in the stands going after fans, Walton called the situation “a disgrace.”
I chased after him as he started to leave the court. I told him I was doing a story on Ron and that his thoughts on everything Ron was doing for mental health would be a huge help for my story.
“I’m so proud of Ron,” he said to me as he made his way up the stairs in the lower bowl at Staples. A seated fan shouted out at him and Walton went over and shook his hand.
“Could I talk to you for my story?” I asked him.
I can only assume that from his seat at the center of the basketball universe, Walton saw through me. He knew that for years I hated on his analysis on NBC. Knew that I bemoaned his move to ESPN and that my 180 on him in the last year of his TV career was too little, too late.
“Give me a call,” he said, still walking.
“I don’t have your number,” I said back to him, thinking I was about to get the digits of one the game’s greats.
“Contact me through the NBA,” he shot back. It was the greatest brush off and deliverance of big man-centric justice in the history of western civilization.
I didn’t get the interview I wanted out of Walton, but Ron had a lot to say about a guy he calls his pops. We’ll start with that.
Ron — Oct 27, 2010 at the Four Seasons, Beverly Hills
SLAM: I saw you talking with Bill Walton before the game last night.
Ron Artest: Always.
SLAM: What are those conversations like?
RA: Inspirational. It’s kind of like, I call him pops because I know Luke, he’s a good guy, brother like. So I call his dad pops (Ron laughs).
SLAM: I remember him calling that game in Detroit in 04 and saying it’s a disgrace. To go from that to where he seeks you out on the court to hug you …
RA: He’s an honest person, I think and I think he’s always looking out for the athlete, for the player and he’s always giving out advice. He’s checking on you, seeing how I’m doing. He saw me at the bottom and he’s seen me at the top and he’s been the same person.
SLAM: He said to me last night before the game that he was so proud of you.
RA: He saw me at the bottom and the top and he’s been the same way ever since. Every time I see him.
SLAM: What was he saying to you back in Indy? In 04 and 05? Were you talking with him much then?
RA: I was talking with him all the time. ‘Hey Ron take it easy, you’re a good player, relax.’ When I got in the fight he told me I’d get through it. He’s a good person.
SLAM: I want to tie this mental health stuff into basketball. If you’ve got things going on in your head, I think your game will be affected. Do you think that’s true?
RA: If you’re not focused because something’s bothering you … not every athlete has that problem — not every person has that problem — some people don’t and some people do. I think for me when I know I’m off track and I’m not reaching my goals or I’m not trying to reach them, I know I’m off track.
It’s like how it carries over to somebody in a less fortunate neighborhood. You know, they grow up as kids, they’re not going to school and now they’re in the streets, real quick. It’s that simple. So something happened where you know, you lost focus, whether it was at home, your environment, whether it’s frustrations or something, whether you want to be around your friends and your friends are teasing you sometimes and they’re not accepting you. You don’t feel accepted and that’s a challenge.
There’s a lot of different symptoms and stuff that I’m learning about still that’s directly involved in mental health. That’s why it’s so important.
SLAM: I watched Game 5 of the Western Finals the other day and I thought it spoke a lot to where you’re at today. You took that shot with a minute left and everyone turned on you. The announcers were all over you, the whole building was like, noooo. You know? Then you just totally redeemed yourself at the buzzer. You saw it through.
RA: For me, I know how to deal with situations like that now. I know when people are in my corner and when they’re not. I know when something doesn’t go my way, I do something that’s kind of wrong and the people come down on me too hard, I understand that these people are not … they’re not trying to better me.
I understand now, from the help of my psychologist how to deal with it. Some people don’t even know how to deal with that situation.
Some people don’t know how to deal with being famous and then not being famous. Or having money and then not having money. You see suicide, you see abuse of alcohol and abuse of substances and stuff like that. That’s why my psychologist is key in my life, because you know … sometimes you want to talk to someone who you feel comfortable talking to. It might not be your dad, it might be your brother or it might be your uncle.
SLAM: I was talking with a college coach in Canada before I came out to L.A. He won a national championship and he said he doesn’t even think about the ring now, doesn’t wear it anymore. Was it like that for you?
RA: No. For me it’s more special, it’s my first ring. If I wasn’t doing this, I don’t know how long I would have kept it. I never got to that point. Right now it’s that moment and it’s so special. And I do want it. But now I’m kind of like, ‘Wow, all of my emotions are high and I’m like wow, I’m giving it away.’ It’s more inspiration to get better and I’m just getting to the point where I’m putting on my (first) ring.
SLAM: Are you tight with Gilbert Arenas?
RA: I don’t know him like that but I’m a fan.
SLAM: Do you feel for him, seeing him go through the things he’s gone through in the last few years?
RA: I do. I just know that he is … I know … he probably wished things probably wouldn’t have happened how they went down, but also … I kind of see a little bit of myself. A little bit. I see a little bit as far as adversity … mistakes. Yeah.
SLAM: People are quick to put that bad guy image on people. Gil’s had it, Michael Vick, you had it for a while there.
RA: I always tell people, if you’re getting down on someone for something that happened today, believe me, something will happen tomorrow. You know, something’s always going to happen. You can keep pounding or criticizing, going over the edge, overboard criticizing, something’s going to happen tomorrow.
After I got in that situation, I was the biggest loser, so to speak. But look what happened later in sports. You don’t know exactly when it’s going to be, you don’t know when, but something’s going to happen that’s not quote on quote the right thing to do, but nobody knows what’s going on in that person’s life, why he did what he did. It’s important for people to understand that because they could help a parent or this child, or they could help an up and coming athlete with preventional contact. Not what to do.
SLAM: Do you find it strange how the media crucified you back then and a lot of those same people have to turn around and write a different story? Is it hard to deal with people in that sense? Do you recognize faces sometimes of people who were hard on you back then?
RA: A couple of times it was hard on me but I accepted it. I embraced it. A couple of years ago, everyone used to talk down on me and I’d say that’s their job. Whatever they needed to write, that’s how they fed their family. I understood that, that’s how they feed their family. Whatever story they’re going to write is keeping them fed. And unfortunately some of the stuff is inaccurate and some of the stuff is harsh, but that’s how they keep their jobs. Who am I to tell somebody what to write?
SLAM: I’ve been really surprised by your perspective. Are you hearing that a lot?
RA: I think so. It’s weird that people don’t know me like that. They still don’t know who Ron Artest is. They hear some things come out of my mouth and who I am and go, ‘Wow, he’s pretty interesting, a cool guy a good guy.’ But they’ve been overshadowed by my actions the last couple of years. Those (negative) things overshadow things that I’ve done. Like winning defensive player of the year or being an all-star being on that team. Getting a new deal, new team. Then I do something else (and it) overshadows.
SLAM: You’ve talked about playing football after basketball. Where do you want to play?
RA: I don’t know yet. Hopefully, T.O.’s 35 now, he’ll probably be out by the time (I play).
T.O.’s gonna start training me, teaching me the tight end position next summer. It’s going to be a workout for me. It’ll go with the basketball, the workouts. He’ll train with different movements and how to work and also I’ll be training my jabs.
I want to box. That’s later, but I’ve been training boxing for the last couple of years, but this will be the first year I train in football. That’s all cardio, training and conditioning workout. It’ll take the place of my basketball strength and conditioning. In boxing you move your feet and football your foot movements, you’ve got to be quick. I’m hoping that dream comes true.
SLAM: If you couldn’t line up something in the NFL, would you play in the Canadian Football League?
RA: I would. Totally.
SLAM: Matt Barnes’ brother is in the CFL.
RA: I would totally do that. If I can’t do NFL, I’d like to do something like that. I’d like to do the CFL.