Ron Artest's season on the brink finally toppled over the edge this past weekend. But was anyone really surprised? If you follow the NBA, you had to have seen this coming. For a few years now, Artest has flirted with disaster. It's not exclusively violence he skirts, but often reality, as well. A quick review:
-- Two years ago, he flipped out and broke a television camera at Madison Square Garden.
-- Last year, Artest noted, "If I had a player out of line, I would bench him. That's all you can do, bench him. You don't kiss nobody's rear end, because it stinks."
-- When Keyshawn Johnson was deactivated by the Tampa Bay Bucs last season, Artest said, "He was basically like Ron Artest from last season. He's got his Super Bowl ring, right? They gave him all his money, right? Now he can use the time off to go get his attitude right."
-- At one point last season, Artest practiced in a bathrobe.
-- As a rookie with the Bulls, Artest applied for a part-time job at Circuit City.
-- Before last year's All-Star Game, he shot around in his game uniform and Steve Madden loafers.
We had to know something was going to happen, right? You could practically hear the ticking. Surely the Pacers had an inkling. After all, Artest has spent the last few years as a loner, watching Ultimate Fighting Championship DVDs on the team plane on a laptop that is missing half its keys. According to one source, this summer the Pacers came close to trading Artest and Jamaal Tinsley to Sacramento for Peja Stojakovic and Bobby Jackson but ultimately decided against it.
Heck, even I had an idea Artest wasn't completely stable. I interviewed him in August and I asked him how, when his career was over, he thought he'd be remembered.
"I don't know," he said, "because I do charity work and things like that, but then I got a nice little wild side, you know what I'm saying? Like, my DVD is coming out. I went to almost every neighborhood in New York City, by myself and sometimes with some other people. I went to the gutter, where guys do everything, all the things you don't want your kids to see. I was filming people rapping, it's like a big documentary on New York City, and we're going to expand it, too."
Artest's antics are often humorous, sure, but they're frequent enough to be unsettling. Most players guard their image like he guards a small forward, while Artest never seemed to care; it's almost as though he doesn't even know he has an image. (And we haven't even mentioned the rap album fiasco from a few weeks ago.)
The Pacers decided not to move Artest in exchange for two solid players, and now they're stuck with him, but without him. By jumping through the imaginary boundary between the fans and the players, Artest not only ended his season, he severely damaged the Pacers' championship chances, made trading him virtually impossible, and more or less ensured that the Pistons -- and their fans -- will return to the Finals.
What separates good teams from great teams is trust, and as long as Artest is there, the Pacers won't have it. According to someone in the know in Indiana, "Jermaine [O'Neal], those guys, they've all had it with Ron. He's a good-hearted guy, really he is, but they're tired of things always, for one reason or another, going wrong when [Artest is] involved."
What will become of Artest? Assuming his season-long suspension stands, the one thing in his life that provides structure -- basketball -- will have been taken away from him. He's an amazing athlete and one of the best all-around players in the League, one of the few guys I'd pay to watch play. And now he's without a league.
Honestly, I'm worried for Artest. We all saw him lose it on Friday night. Some of the other players managed to keep their cool and their sanity. I'm just not sure Ron Artest ever had that much of either to begin with.
Something I Learned This Week In An NBA Locker Room
Earlier this week the Hawks debuted their new yellow uniforms, which may or may not have been inspired by a jar of mustard. According to one Hawks player, the team isn't all that excited by them either. "Yeah man," he said, "we're only wearing them, like, once in a blue moon."
Game Of The Week
As part of my ongoing effort to play every sport in the world while sitting at my desk, this week I thought I'd highlight this tennis game that I've been playing for a while. Deuce!
Official Timekiller Of The Week
You know what it's like. You just finished off your Thanksgiving meal, you're kicked back, feeling full, fighting off sleep, watching the Cowboys get waxed ... what next? Get up and do something! But in the interest of doing something semi-useful, here are directions for making the world's best paper airplane. Have at it.
Thanksgiving Disaster Of The Week
And speaking of Thanksgiving, if someone in your family manages to spectacularly screw up the turkey, let me urge you to photograph it for posterity and send it here. I think this museum is curated by the University of Georgia Food Services.
Bad Bathroom Etiquette Of The Week
If you're in a VIP bathroom backstage at an awards show, make sure you don't knock a bathroom wall down on someone in the stall next to you. Especially if that someone is Eminem.
Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com. He likes watching replays of the Detroit/Indiana fight and watching a confused Rasheed Wallace try and figure out which side he's supposed to be on.