Posted Dec 23 2010 3:01PM
LOS ANGELES -- His daughter and son wondered why, his wife said not to give away the real ring, or, actually, any ring, and his brother flat out asked, "What are you doing?" The family is "really upset," Ron Artest admits.
But has remained steadfast. If he would not be swayed after first deciding to sell his Lakers championship ring in an online auction, he surely would not be moved off the original plan once the reaction flooded in.
Fearing being mocked, he delighted in the response. Bracing for criticism, the feedback convinced him that, yes, this is absolutely the right decision.
And so, when the auction is held on Christmas Day (the same day the Lakers play the Heat on national television, an intentional marketing tie-in), Artest will transfer ownership of one of the most cherished material possessions of his life.
Really upset? Artest sounds most bothered that he didn't come up with such a dramatic fundraiser and spotlight on mental-health care for school children sooner.
Mocked? The embrace has been so unexpectedly warm that he is already plotting the encore: a plan to donate at least half, and maybe all, of next season's $6.79 million salary, labor peace willing.
Criticism? Try more conviction than ever that he is doing the right thing.
"I was expecting a lot of criticism on the ring, how I didn't put enough importance in the ring," Artest said. "I was expecting a lot of, 'He's crazy.' I was expecting a lot of, 'Mental health, Ron Artest -- perfect match' jokes and mockery and stuff. A lot of that has not happened, at all."
There have been those kind of comments. Yes: Mental health, Ron Artest -- perfect match. But there have also been e-mails through his website, from kids who thanked him for making them feel they were not alone. There have been people stopping him as he runs errands, fans appreciating the way Artest put a public face on a life-and-death issue that, experts in the field have long said, could dramatically benefit from a prominent person helping to break through the stigma of mental-health care.
"Random people on the street just saying, 'Thank you,' " he said. "Random people e-mailing and saying, 'Wow, I have the same problems and similar situation to what you're going through. I can't believe that you would say that. My heart is open to you.' The connection. My website has really been blowing up. That was the main thing, just the connection with me and the every-day person.
"It was great. It gave me a chance just to see the good in people instead of questioning people, because I was questioning people for a long time. It was confusing. I didn't know how many people actually disliked me or liked me or was fed up with me, but now feel like I can actually appreciate people instead of always questioning people.
"The response, it was motivating. You know what it feels like? Honestly, this thing that I'm doing, it feels like -- I played basketball, I love making a hit song, I love performing, I love just doing songs, I love playing basketball games. This movement feels just as motivating. It feels fun. It's fun. It feels like a game. It's like really intense. It feels great. It feels great."
Fellow players, he said, "were kind of caught off guard. Because players are doing stuff all the time, so as players, you're not going to get excited much about what somebody's doing. But I'm sure it caught a few eyes. It was interesting. When it first came out, it was like, 'What's Ron doing here?' You know, interesting."
Now, everyone knows. He's putting a positive spotlight on the topic, on workers in the field but mostly in the students who step forward and ask for help in a sign of strength. It has turned into a personal moment for Artest. He feels good. He feels vindicated.
That's what he is doing.
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