I am the only Indiana Pacers fan that I know.
On the rare occasion that I meet another die-hard NBA fan in the rural south-eastern state in which I live, an exchange like this usually occurs:
Them: “So, you’re a hoops fan, too! Man, I’ve followed the *insert successful team name here* since I was a kid. I once had a *insert hall of fame player here* jersey that I wore every day for 11 years, then had carefully crafted into a coffin lining so that I can be buried with it and all of the priceless memories of championship moments that I carry around with me all of the time. Who’s your team?
Me: “Uh, the Pacers.”
Them: *Smiling and waiting patiently for a punchline*
Me: *Nodding grimly*
For this reason, the 2004 season and the Malice at the Palace were particularly traumatic for me. Not only did my favorite team, poised for a 60 win season and a potential finals appearance, completely fall apart in the most humiliating and horrifying of ways, but I was the only person within 500 miles who cared. Most of my hoops buddies thought the whole ordeal was hilarious. I suppose I could not really blame them. I laughed until my stomach hurt when Shaq attempted to murder Brad Miller with a ham-fisted haymaker that, had it connected, would have landed Miller’s head in the Gale Crater (Video here, for any interested). When it is your team, though, you do not easily see the humor. You want answers.
I sought answers in Ron Artest. In hindsight, I realize that seeking any meaningful context from this man made about as much sense as opening a can of alphabet soup, eating most of the vowels, throwing the rest against the wall, then trying to piece together the meaning of life with the remaining letters. It just was not going to happen. Watch this, and feel my pain.
In lieu of finding some kind of closure on the situation and moving on, I instead balled up my anger and disappointment and tucked it neatly in the back of my brain, to inevitably strike back in the form of a stroke and/or heart attack. As the years progressed, I watched the major players in the brawl (Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O’Neal, et al) move along to other teams and enjoy some success. I resented them, but not nearly as much as I did Artest. He was the architect of my team’s destruction. He had no regrets, felt no contrition. I opted to pretend like he did not exist, but my brother, in true big-brother fashion, refused to let me forget. He emailed me this link, entitled ‘Ron Artest: Brilliant Tactician’ in 2009. Followed shortly thereafter by another.
And just like that, I was back in. I still strongly disliked Ron Artest, but I was hopelessly intrigued by his enigmatic behavior. Every time I saw his name in print, I had flashbacks of beer cups flying through the air and Jermaine O’Neal sliding thunder punches (watch, if you must). But, I found myself, more often than not, laughing at Artest’s hijinks. Since the brawl, professional athletes, along with the rest of the world, had moved en masse to Twitter and Facebook, whereby they had the ability (and responsibility) to closely foster image and brand to fans and spectators. Artest, perhaps because he had already been so publicly and thoroughly vilified, seemed to exist above the pressures of this increased exposure. He just did (and does) whatever he wanted. The following video is a great example, and was the first video of Artest that I actually enjoyed watching since 2004. Just a warning: you probably should not watch this video at work, around children, or in the presence of anyone whose opinion of you holds value:
Now that you cannot un-hear what you have just heard, let me ask you this: Is there any other person in the public eye who could record THAT song, release it publicly, and NOT get completely obliterated? No, there is not another person. He exists beyond our collective touch. He can literally do ANYTHING, and everyone will just kind of shrug and go “Meh, that’s Ron. Whaddya gonna do?” Inexplicably, in an age where every action and word from a breathing celebrity is consumed and vomited out by critics (including me, it seems), Ron Artest, a gold-mine of content, has a free pass. What does he do with this carte blanche? He races cartoons on ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!’ Also, he has a part in the soon to be released Lifetime movie ‘The Eleventh Victim’. Be sure to read the synopsis.
So, you can see how my feelings toward Artest have shifted from “eternally resentful” to “genuinely confused”.He does not seem to be trying to create an image of a “tough-guy”, perpetuated by his aggressive actions on court (see Alonzo Mourning). He seems to be distancing himself, whenever and wherever possible, from the person he is while playing basketball. He seems like a pretty decent guy, in fact. He becomes a different person as a competitor, something we can all relate to. And, like Artest, many of us have done things in a competitive fervor that we should not have. In the seventh grade, after losing a dodgeball game to a pasty, skinny kid with glasses, I booted the dodgeball down the hall of our middle school and it rolled all the way to the cafeteria. It felt like the right thing to do at the time, and it was many years before I realized just how stupid and pointless a thing it was. I encourage you to drudge up the repressed thoughts of your biggest sports villains and re-evaluate them. It will make you feel better. Or maybe worse. Probably worse.
-Bretta World Peace (Formerly known as Brett Kennedy)