Ron Artest thanked his psychiatrist in his moment of triumph after the Lakers 83-79 win against the Celtics. After a long career during which he entered athletic lore by going into the stands to fight with a fan and served a full year suspension as a result, he could hoist the Larry O'Brien Championship trophy for the first time.
Artest arrived at the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo, California in early July 2009. At his introductory press conference he set forth his plan to gain the trust of his team. It began with him.
"I have to win myself over first, I have to make sure I do everything possible this summer to come back a better player. If I give 100% I know it won't be a problem to win the team over."
He patiently answered question after question about why the fans and team shouldn't be worried about him causing problems and most importantly, unraveling the championship chemistry on the Lakers.
"I am not in a position to do anything to win, or I'll get suspended. I try to be as smart as possible and as aggressive as possible without being ejected."
The doubters just shook their heads and pounded away at Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, hoping he'd give them some idea of why he was willing to trust Artest, pay him decent dough and slide him into the slot occupied by Trevor Ariza until only a few days prior.
Kupchak could only say that he believed Artest would not only behave but bring the team what it desperately needed, a tough defensive presence both under the boards and in one-on-one situations on the perimeter against the league's best shooters. Score one for Kupchak.
Artest then went about creating his network of those that would help him fulfill that intention. He found a trusted medical professional who worked with him to take the edge off when his pressure valve used to malfunction.
He worked at it and checked his ego at the door as well. Used to being either the number one or two option on his previous teams, he was usually the third or fourth man on offense in Los Angeles. Some of that was a result of having Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the floor at the same time.
More than just a little of that came from Artest's difficulty in becoming accustomed to the triangle offense as coached by Phil Jackson. The triangle is all about ball movement with players making independent choices about how to score or who should get the ball next.
He struggled without set plays called for him and his teammates and began to hesitate when passed the ball with open looks at the basket.
And even as he struggled and was criticized in media more than praised for his defense, he never blew his top, lost his cool or did anything on the court that could remotely be called a distraction. That is because he stood in awe of Kobe Bryant and Jackson.
It bordered on puppy love and hero worship at times. Like a man in love he parroted the approach of his loved one. When Kobe didn't get too high after big wins, Artest followed along. When Kobe shot too much but then saved the day with game winner at the buzzer, Artest praised him. If Ron did something spectacular that contributed to a win he only wanted to say that he was happy he could contribute.
Anyone who has been in therapy knows the ups and downs in treatment. The fact that Artest was consistent through 105 games and a season that began prior to Halloween is not only commendable it's astounding.
Finally allowed to break out the crazy, he let everyone know who he really was after the trophy was secured. In his post-game press conference he exulted and rambled like a man who wasn't afraid to reveal what was beneath the controlled basketball player that had just played the most important game of his career and been called the MVP by his own coach.
When that side of Artest was on display, it made the season of good behavior even more impressive. Laker fans owe his psychiatrist a fruit basket at a minimum. Artest's willingness to work at keeping the over-the-top Ron under control as promised way back in July 2009, is worth noting and applauding. He's a champion on the court too.
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