I was one of those Internet people who participated in the rebranding of Ron Artest when he arrived in L.A. a couple years ago. I wrote a sidebar to this Maxim article that branded Artest as the NBA's most lovable goofball, an article included bullshit quotes like this one from Phil Jackson:
"He's got a certain freshness, a certain naiveté—he doesn't seem like he's giving anything but the full truth of his being. There's no veneer around him." Jackson says that since coming to L.A., Artest has been fully focused. "His purpose has been to play basketball and do the things he wants to do for kids. It's big-hearted things. He understands that it's vulnerable to do that, but fans love him for that vulnerability."
Last night, Mr. Vulnerable planted an elbow into James Harden's dome. In Jackson's description, Artest is a kind of lovable retard, a gentle giant who lashes out because he's just so darn sensitive. He's so honest that he can't help but go around punching people! We should admire him for that!
I think that's all over now. There's no deeper meaning to Ron Artest. He's not that naive, and he's not that interesting. He was NEVER all that interesting. Here is a list of notable things about Ron Artest:
• He changed his name to something stupid.
• He publicly thanked his shrink.
• He did stand-up, poorly.
• He made a terrible rap album.
• He confessed that he drank at halftime.
• He once went to practice in a bathrobe.
All of those incidents are stunts. They're the kind of things celebrities do when they want attention and can't attract it through the work that made them famous in the first place. The reason people like me got suckered was because we always fall for any athlete who, at least on the surface of things, is different from the rest. On the whole, athletes are boring as shit when they're not playing their sport, so we feel gratitude when someone, ANYONE, offers up something new. Leitch once wrote a whole chapter of a book in which he argued that Gilbert Arenas was a more meaningful athlete than LeBron James ever will be, and the reason he wrote it (and the reason it sounds so hilariously dated now) is that we'll ALWAYS fall for anyone who provides us with decent material, no matter how thin that material may be. We're so starved for some display of genuineness that we'll embrace genuine stupidity.
Look past all the stunts and it's clear that Ron Artest isn't really a colorful character. He's not an interesting person. And he's not sympathetic. There's nothing to learn from the life of Ron Artest. Like Arenas, he's just a flaky shithead. That's the full truth of his being. At his core, he's a boring player—one who can't shoot, can't jump, and can't dribble—with a violent streak who stumbled into making a briefly popular brand out of his own blithering idiocy. Part of me thinks he threw that elbow just so that people would talk about him, because you only talk about Ron Artest when he does something stupid to catch your attention for five minutes. Some of us, me included, used to get suckered by that kind of bullshit. No more. He's run out of chances to try and convince the world that he's something other than a surly moron. Go the fuck away, Ron.
Photo via AP