Ron Artest is missing one of his two front teeth, and it’s not because he bit into an apple the wrong way.
It’s because he’s been spending his summer dominating the New York City summer hoops circuit and stacking chips, like the one he claimed on The Bronx’s Orchard Beach this past Sunday. While fewer NBA players are taking advantage of city’s many summer leagues, Artest goes from NBA anti-hero to hometown-boy-makes-good simply by showing up to play.
“There are cats who play in the NBA that are sitting by the pool in the Bahamas right now, I’m sure,” says Roy Beekman, former high school All-American as a player and current coach of Hostos Community College in The Bronx, seated in the stands. “Ron Artest is out here playing ball on the concrete in this heat, playing hard and winning championships. A lot of other guys are on vacation,”
Even with the perfect summer scenery, the Hoops In The Sun fans were no less attentive to a tight game between two of the tournaments best teams. R2K features JUCO prospects, Dwight Hardy, who held the H.I.T.S scoring record briefly this summer, Rah Jenkins, another strong scoring-guard and also University of Tennessee 7-footer Brian Williams. Considerably younger than their opponents, R2K played tough, but lost a hard fought game to a stacked Bingo’s All-Stars club 104-96.
Besides Ron Ron, Bingo’s roster included former Iowa State point guard Curtis Stinson, ex-SJU forward Anthony Glover, his little brother Mike Glover and his current Seaton Hall teammate Jeremy “The Cab Driver” Hazell. UCONN-bound point Kemba Walker came out to provide a steady hand amongst a bunch of now seasoned pros.
The crowd was into the game from jump and Artest hit a pair of early threes to get the crowd live. He finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds but was not the M.V.P of the game. That honor went to Anthony Glover who finished with 31 points as Bingo’s claimed the 2008 H.I.T.S title. Glover also picked up a contract with hoops outfitter K1X.
While he didn’t walk away as the official MVP, Artest’s presence was something special on Orchard Beach Sunday afternoon. He wasn’t there for a sneaker he was endorsing or to flash a new car he was pushing and thankfully not to perform cuts from another rap album. He came to lace up his kicks (Jordans. K1X sponsors H.I.T.S. but Artest is no longer a spokesman) and hit the beach for a few hours of hooping for the people. He signed as many autographs as he could and took a dozen or so photos with fans.
While Artest’s image has certainly been hurt during many points in his NBA career, his problems haven’t hurt his reputation in his hometown much. He’s the total New York type of basketball player and the people love that. You can see on Orchard Beach the fans love him because he’s not perfect and because he’s showing up to play for them just like they are showing up to watch him. He comes out to places like H.I.T.S. because he knows basketball is New York City’s favorite pastime and the people who support him the most don’t get to NBA games too often.
Although his appearance might not always be that of the millionaire he has become, he obviously never has any trouble remembering where he came from. While he’ll fit in fine with the Rockets, it’s too bad he didn’t end up with the Knicks. The city could use a renegade force like Artest to rally behind – much more than they need another increase in subway and bus fare. As the rising cost of gas, rent, live entertainment and everything else that eats money sucks the life out of things, Artest – possibly subconsciously – did New York City a great service this summer just by being himself.
PHOTO: Ben Tifa