The L.A. Lakers clinched a pivotal contest in the 2010 Western Conference Finals because Kobe Bryant airballed his potential game winning three-point try.
No one predicted Game Five would end this way. The words “Bryant” and “airball” go together like onions and turtle cheesecake.
Yet, Ron Artest—Hollywood’s eager, long awaited, near-$6 million hero—was there to snag the rebound, salvage the game, and nudge the Lakers one win closer to the franchise’s 31st NBA Finals.
Ron Ron—yes, the nut job extraordinaire who moments earlier had sent his coach to the crazy house with a what-the-hell-were-you-thinking pair of long jumpers—came up in the clutch.
When he gathered Bryant’s miss and tapped the ball back through the net just before the regulation buzzer, he fended off more than Jason Richardson and the resourceful Phoenix Suns. Richardson failed to box out the player whose ill-advised heaves less than a minute prior had allowed him to knot the score with a desperation triple.
The Phoenix guard went glass for a tie. Artest cleaned it for a win. As the round ball rimmed in, his reputation and his legacy changed once more.
He had always designed it this way, even as Bryant and Phil Jackson struggled to comprehend his staggering delivery.
Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers says he hates heroes. If Rasheed Wallace’s season-long chuck-a-thon drove him to a shrink, handling the devil-may-care Artest might have pushed him to an in-season retirement.
A handful of coaches in NBA history could handle Artest’s capricious personality, and he’s played for two of them in successive years.
Rick Adelman tried patience and constructive criticism.
Jackson attempted more of the same. With Bryant as his associate professor, the pair immersed Artest in a continuous lecture that was half-business, half-exam.
In the Lakers’ battiest play of the season, he sealed the deal and advanced to the next grade level. He passed the test, even if his scantron was littered with scribble marks and demented, stick figure illustrations.
Ron Ron for Dummies?
Jackson will not soon pen the first ever manuscript. He wondered in his post-game presser why he left Artest in the game.
He wasn’t the only one.
Two head-scratcher shots in the final minute of a critical game should have yielded an unceremonious yank. Jackson—perhaps as entertained, as he was dumbfounded and exasperated by Artest’s display of stupidity and botched heroism—let his confused star figure it out in the most important three-possession stretch of the defending champions’ jagged season.
The Suns did everything possible to force overtime after trailing by as many as 18 points, except plan for the improbable.
The Lakers triumphed on the simplest and luckiest play of an uproarious night.
Simple because boxing out your man on a potential game-winner is a paramount basketball fundamental.
Lucky because Bryant’s shot did not graze the rim.
That final play was pure Artest. Jackson’s newest wild one—you may recall Dennis “wedding dress” Rodman—squandered and saved the game in less time than it takes to bang out the intro to “Wipeout.”
Wipeout? The Lakers nearly did, a barrage of treys and Steve Nash jumpers giving the Suns a chance to clinch this baby in the desert on Saturday night.
Artest dribbled twice and then leaned in for a jumper that careened off the rim.
Pau Gasol snatched the miss and tapped the ball back to Artest with 23 seconds left in regulation.
Instead of running clock and forcing the Suns to foul, he hoisted a three-pointer with no hesitation.
Brick, of course.
“I was once a 40-percent shooter from three,” he said to Craig Sager in a post game interview.
That’s Ron Ron, making sense of a flapdoodle when no one else can.
It makes sense, then, that his put-back afforded the Lakers a 3-2 series lead.
Crazy? Artest lives it.
He once asked former Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle for a month off during the regular season because he was too fatigued after promoting his rap album to play.
He applied for a job at Best Buy one summer, just so he could use the employee discount. He made enough money then to buy the store location nearest his neighborhood.
In the darkest moment of the previous decade—for the NBA and Artest—he bombarded the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills after a fan showered him with beer.
He didn’t just clock a spectator with his fist. He clocked the wrong one.
He decided last year to phone the real offender and offer an apology. It came with a twist.
Sorry I tried to punch you that night in Detroit. Want to write a book about it? What if we teamed up for some community service?
That’s Ron Ron, solving the world’s problems, one mystifying gesture at a time.
Artest has never dismissed an opportunity for a good laugh. Would any other sports star sanction a YouTube video in which he sings Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” into a Magic Mike?
His spoken-word rendition belongs on a distinguished list—how to make a bad song worse.
His shenanigans produced some memorable moments in Houston. Late in the Rockets first-round clincher over the Portland Trail Blazers, Artest dove into the stands for a loose ball. He grabbed a fan’s beer, chugged it and posed for a priceless photo op.
“I’ve been in the stands before,” he snickered later at the podium.
He also showed up to the team’s bus for a Game Seven against Jackson’s Lakers in his underwear. Per multiple reports, he missed the bus carrying the players and instead boarded the last one, which left 45 minutes before tip off.
In a regular season joust with the Lakers, he left Bryant alone on the right wing to double-team reserve big man Josh Powell at the top of the key.
All of this has shaped how his peers see him—scouts too.
He provides non-stop entertainment and gives his teams a rare defensive bravado. No one questions his desire to win.
His methodology, however, has made basketball minds across the country scream.
With Tracy McGrady sidelined for much of the year, Artest often tried to become the team’s perimeter star.
If Adelman watched Thursday night, he related to Jackson. He knew that look.
Oh, Christ. Ron, what the hell were you thinking?
Artest, according to an article by Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen, hired a personal assistant to keep him out of trouble.
LeBron James will hire anyone willing to say “yes.” Artest commissions someone to follow him around and say “no.”
That assistant has not helped much on the basketball court. Lakers fans, and even Jackson, wondered if he might cause the team’s repeat train to derail.
He hoisted so many ill-advised shots and rarely lived up to his billing as a lockdown defender.
After his Game Five heroics, L.A.’s expedition is back on the right track.
He won it his way. His Laker teammates swarmed him, and the scene reminded of that night in Toyota Center last year.
Then, he did much more than leave his backwash and sweat in some Rockets’ season ticket holder’s eight dollar cup of Miller Lite. He scored 26 points and destroyed the Blazers interior defense with post-ups and muscular drives.
Some Sacramento and Indiana teammates considered him a choke artist. They never questioned how much he wanted to taste victory.
They wondered, though, if his brand of insanity could ever produce the desired results.
Jackson saw idiocy turn to gallantry in the span of 55 seconds, and he should know now that it can.
Artest added another chapter to his compelling narrative.
Bryant fired up an air-ball. Artest—dollar store cape and all—swooped in to save the day.
If it didn’t quite feel like a Superman-worthy rescue for the Lakers, it will do.
GM Mitch Kupchak signed Artest last summer and hoped for the best. The mercurial forward lives crazy. Now, the Lakers live it with him.
On nights like Thursday, the thrill of the ride outweighs its frequent malfunctions and disastrous turns.
Shoot a three-pointer when you’re one of eight from the field? That’s Ron Ron.
No. 37. Call him “the thriller.”
This hit might just keep the Lakers at the top of the charts.