In his uniform, with confetti raining down upon him in his first moments as an NBA championship, Ron Artest thanked his therapist.
Of course he did.
The man known as ‘Crazy Pills’ became something more in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, knocking down clutch shot after clutch shot, playing within himself, and finally obtaining the redemption he’d set out to obtain, just by playing basketball.
All season long, Artest spoke of how much he wanted to please his teammates. It was visible. After his game winning tip in Game 5 of the Lakers series versus the Phoenix Suns, he immediately leapt into Kobe’s arms. He wanted to fit in. He wanted to be accepted. He wanted to be loved.
This for a man that sunk the Pacers with his reckless behavior and selfishness, from the guy who shot the Kings into the tank, and who pulled the rug out from under the Rockets by overshooting when they needed him most. And he had decided to commit himself fully to the Lakers, to bring a championship to LA (again). He came to Kobe in the shower after the 2008 series and offered his services (while under contract with another team, I might add). He always knew it was LA that would give him his redemption.
Artest had his moments of goathood in this series. Famously, the Yakety Sax game was a low point. But in a game where Kobe Bryant shot 6 of 24 from the field and the Lakers’ offense looked like roadkill for three quarters of the game, it was Artest who routinely and solidly came through. At one point, Artest nabbed a key offensive rebound, centered, and nailed the putback over the defender’s arms. Then with the game in question after a huge Rajon Rondo three to cut the lead to three, Artest responded with a three of his own, blowing the roof off the Staples Center (figuratively; the Lakers fans would try and do it literally later).
Artest changed everything about his career tonight. He went from the rogue lunatic who could sabotage his teammates just as quickly as he could lock down on his assignment, to the lovable loon, holding a “Wheaties” box in the presser and going to the club in his jersey. A championship redefines your career, and this one will do the work for Artest. His eccentric personality and quirks will seem like the bizarre textures of a quirky but brilliant championship player, rather than the proof that some players are too “out there” to succeed. He’s also validated the idea that if you’re on the fringe of the NBA and want to win a championship, head to LA.
Artest’s defensive work, combined with his championship ring, and notoriety, may be enough to eventually land him in the hall, especially if he can help the Lakers back next season. Even if he doesn’t make it there, he’ll have his share of NBA lore complete with brilliant post-game press conference (which we’ll bring you notes of later; just know it was something to behold).
Artest’s transformation is complete, from the Man That Started the Malice to the Kook Who Spoiled the Truth. Ron Artest’s crazy ride continues.