Ron Artest has been called many things. White is not one of them.
A player who will be remembered for two things that have nothing to do with basketball; one being the immediate gratitude towards his psychiatrist after the NBA Finals Game 7 win last year and the other being the fan melee in the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Artest grew up in the rough neighborhoods of Queensbridge, NY, witnessed a tragic murder at a YMCA, and has produced his own rap album.
He’s controversial and zany; once showing up to a Pacers practice in a robe and during his rookie season he applied for a job at Circuit City just so he could get the employee discount.
Ron Artest has never been considered one of the greatest athletes in the game, yet still always one of the best defenders. He’s never been considered one of the best behaved athletes, yet still one of the best teammates. Artest is a character, yet so tough to characterize.
If I asked you to name some of the greatest black basketball players in history you’d tell me names like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor. If you described their games I’d hear finesse shooter, great dunker, dynamic scorer, and brilliant passer.
Now if you produce the same scenario with white players I’d hear names like Larry Bird, John Stockton, Tom Chambers, Kevin McHale, and Bill Laimbeer. Their characteristics would be described as scrappy, feisty, savvy, smart, and competitive.
For the black players, their games are described by their athletic abilities for the white players it’s their mindset and how they play the game.
Ron Artest is part of the latter.
Artest may not be the most civil at times, but there’s no one like him on the court. His scrappiness and feistiness make him a stifling defender that no player wants to face. He is smart and savvy on the court, which allows him to make the right play at the right time, whether it is blocking a shot, grabbing a rebound off the rim, or taking a charge with an opposing player driving down the court. Ron is competitive like no other; maybe not in the scoring sense like a Kobe Bryant, but more of his will to win the game by beating you on offense, stopping you on defense, or mastering you in mind games.
In the 80s and 90s these types of players were revered, these days they are a rare breed. Maybe the game has just changed. The white, less talented players who exceled back in those eras by utilizing the characteristics I described earlier are now gone. Basically the only white players in the game are either foreign born players who don’t fit the mold or three point specialists who are one dimensional.
We won’t ever return to these ways, but maybe Ron Artest is The Great White Hope.
I don’t act like I’m color blind—clearly there were differences in play based on race 20 years ago just like there are differences in play now. The biggest difference now though is that we don’t show the same respect for the variances in play.
In this day and age every player is supposed to have the complete game. If LeBron doesn’t have a post-up game then he isn’t great. If Wade doesn’t improve his three point shooting then he can’t be one of the best. If Dwight Howard doesn’t show more toughness and more of a takeover role at the end of games then he isn’t supreme. No player can just be praised for their game.
I’m praising Ron Artest for being the greatest white player in the NBA. Maybe not the greatest in the eyes of the typical NBA fan of this millennium, but as one of the great whites that we used to adore in the 80s and 90s.
That’s Ron Artest though—unorthodox and fine with being so.
I'm fine with him being that way too.
I hope you understand that what I'm trying to express is that so often we just look at the outer surface and don't see the interior. If you just read the title of the column you'll assume it's about race, but really it's about perception. It's actually not supposed to be about race at all. I'm not saying it's unfair that people may think one way or another about the players in the game based on their race or that you should or shouldn't do so.
That 's how we are. We see things or hear things and we don't delve deeper. It passed the initial sniff test and that's all that matters. Sometimes, just like in the case of Ron Artest, the sniff test just doesn't work.
Plus, what black person visits a psychiatrist?