Q+A: Ron Artest, BALL’N

SLAM: What impact do grassroots streetball tournaments have on the inner city youth?

Jeter: Basketball is lifeblood for the hood. Free time can be dangerous in rough neighborhoods, so the more tournaments going on, the more outlets open up for kids. The more tournaments –> the more kids are playing –> the more long-term effects it will have. We’re trying to help these kids. Mousey and me are trying to bring back more tournaments, and it’s been great working together.

Mousey: Like Rodney said, it’s a way for kids to stay out of trouble and it’s a pressure release valve. The impact is a lot deeper than improving your game; it’s improving your life. The streets are a mean place, and staying in the park is a safety net. We’re trying to use basketball as a tool to accomplish greater things.

SLAM: Ron, how would you compare streetball today to streetball when you were growing up?

Artest: Honestly, the true essence of streetball is fading. Back in the day, all we had was a basketball and a stereo, so we’d play ball and blast music all day at the park. But now the City of New York is slowly killing the black culture of basketball, slowly killing competition, and it’s a little disturbing and frustrating. The City prevents kids from playing music in the parks, when a stereo and a basketball is all they have. What they don’t realize is that if you take these kids out of the parks, you throw them into the streets, and that’s drugs and violence and all sorts of terrible things.

SLAM: What do you think should be done in order to implement change?

Artest: I don’t know the exact method, but we gotta fight it. The City of New York is disrespecting the City of New York. It’s like they’re telling us we can’t do what our livelihood is, which is playground basketball. It’s like telling homosexuals that they can’t be with other gays. The confusion leads to frustration, which yields resistance, which is dangerous. It’s unfortunate that I can’t help and advocate for the streets year-round because I’m in the NBA, but we need to do something. Tri-State and the other tournaments are a good start, but the essence of streetball has depleted.

SLAM: I hear you. It’s admirable that you still go down and participate in outdoor tournaments over the summer. For such a high-profile guy, you come right back and just play ball like a regular.

Artest: I grew up playing streetball, like literally everyday, so it’s a part of me, you know? I feel like I just have to play. There’s still a rush I get when I play. You know I’m competitive. And the competition is good.

SLAM: The competition is good?

Artest: Yeah most definitely. We lost last year in the Tri-State Finals. These tournaments remind you how important it is to continue playing hard, because a good summer means a good season.

SLAM: Your alma mater—St. John’s—had a good year and is on the rise. Do you still keep up with the program?

Artest: Definitely man, I’m real happy about it. And we’ve got a good freshmen class coming in. I love it, because now I get to talk a little trash.

SLAM: Now for a few NBA questions… You once said Brandon Roy was hardest player in the NBA to defend. Who is it now?

Artest: Right now, for me it’s probably Dwight Howard.

SLAM: You don’t guard Dwight Howard!

Artest: I gotta guard whoever is scoring, and Dwight gets buckets! Oh, and Dirk. As you saw, he caught us by surprise.

SLAM: I wasn’t going to ask, but since you brought it up I might as well… What happened in the series against Dallas? I think everyone was caught by surprise, not just you.

Artest: We didn’t play together this year. It was tough to go out like that. But we’ll come back strong next year. It was tough though.

SLAM: Do you have any preference for your new head coach? (this question was asked a few hours before the Lakers officially hired Mike Brown)

Artest: I’m pulling for Brian Shaw, but I’ll go hard for any coach. I fully support whomever the Lakers hire. I just want to work hard and win.

SLAM: No doubt. Okay, last question: who you got in the Finals?

Artest: Ah, it’s tough. When you have LeBron and Wade and Bosh and Haslem, you got a good head start. But I think the key for the Heat is Mike Miller and Mike Bibby—All they do is spot up for threes, so if you hop off those two, they’ll make threes. But if you guard them, then you leave a lane open for DWade or LeBron. I don’t know how anybody is going to stop them, so I’m going with the Heat.