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WHEN WE go out there," said a Houston Rockets security guard to forward Ron Artest, "don't stop for autographs." ¶ "O.K.," said Artest. ¶ "They're going to want to take a picture with you," warned another Rockets employee, a community relations director, as they strode an uncongested hallway inside the Toyota Center, on their way to a meet-and-greet with thousands of Rockets season-ticket holders being staged in the arena's concourse. "But don't stop." ¶ "O.K.," said Artest. ¶ The same cautions had been issued to all of his teammates—keep moving, don't cause an incident—but there appeared to be an urgency in the message to Artest, given his unfortunate history of mixing with crowds in NBA arenas.
"You can sign if they ask you to," said yet another security guard, "but keep walking."
"Don't stop," said the Rockets' community relations director.
"Don't stop," echoed the security guard.
"O.K.," said Artest.
The doors were flung open to the concourse and Artest began to wade through the fans. Some looked exultant in his presence; others intimidated. Then Artest noticed, on the far side of the concourse, a handful of grade-school children playing a virtual-reality game. They were leaping to swat at large images of spelling blocks that had been projected onto the wall.
"Hey!" he said. "What's that?" And just like that he was among the children, reaching up to tip the blocks as if they were soft rebounds around the rim. He tapped the final block upward so that it came to rest alongside two others to spell a word.
"C-A-T," Artest told his audience. "Cat."
He had won the game. The kids were jumping around him, celebrating.