Posted Oct 31 2010 5:45PM
To this day, I can't say I remember anyone announcing that Ron Artest would be the next man up in the postgame media session.
I still don't even know if he was even supposed to be there.
But there he sat, flanked by family members large and small, young and old, a smile stretching what seemed like a mile wide across his face.
In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Lakers' epic Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals, someone inexplicably set the table for the most epic postgame interview session in the history of sports.
It's far and away my all-time favorite moment, if for no other reason than I adored seeing the organized chaos of this 6-foot-7, 260-pound human brick spontaneously combusting with joy after realizing his childhood dream of winning a championship.
By the time Artest finished his wide-eyed rambling, he had thanked basically any and everyone he'd ever crossed paths with in this life and any others, including his psychiatrist. (We later learned that was actually his psychologist, or maybe it was his therapist ...) He did all that before letting the world know he was headed to a club, still in his sweaty, champagne-soaked uniform, as soon he was finished.
While most people will remember the zanier highlights of the interview, which went viral immediately, I'll always remember the way Artest flipped back and forth from wacky to sincere during what has to rank as the shining moment of his basketball career.
It was clear he was having an out-of-body experience. There's no explanation for the words that were coming out of his mouth. But he gathered himself long enough to apologize to his former teammates, coaches and organizations for not being able to handle the pressures of the job the way he did in his first trip to the NBA Finals. And make no mistake, the Lakers would not have hoisted that Larry O'Brien trophy in June without Artest's work in Game 7.
"Ron Artest was the most valuable player tonight," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He brought life to our team, he brought life to the crowd."
Artest carried the Lakers on a night when both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol struggled to get going. The Lakers shot a miserable 32 percent, just 67 percent from the free-throw line. Artest, meanwhile, capped a brilliant night with a huge 3-pointer with 61 seconds left to help the Lakers dig out from under a 13-point deficit, snatching the game and the title away from Boston.
"Artest was unbelievable," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game.
Twenty years from now, the written accounts of Artest's giddy session with the media won't do the event justice. The footage will need to be viewed at least twice to appreciate the full scope of Artest's cathartic moment. I'm convinced he was cleansing his spirit that night. This is, after all, the man who almost never got the chance to live that special moment.
Facing the world mere minutes after winning a championship must have seemed a lifetime removed from that November night in 2004, when Artest played for the Indiana Pacers -- and I covered the Pacers and the NBA for the Indianapolis Star. Artest went into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills and a brawl b between Pacers players and Pistons fans ensued. Artest was suspended for 73 games, the remainder of that season, lost millions and immediately moved to the head of the class of all that was wrong with the world of sports.
I said then, repeatedly, that Artest was being miscast as some petulant, young thug. He was always far more complex than his public persona (aren't we all?). For Artest to face his demons the way he did with all of us hanging on his every word, ready to pounce if we heard something ridiculous come out of his mouth, was truly something to see.
He could have done the whole Roy Firestone crying bit. It would have shocked no one. Instead, he stared us all down with the truth about all of the trials and tribulations he faced -- self-inflicted and otherwise -- on his way to that magical space he was in after the that pressure-packed Game 7.
I saw Artest at the very bottom, full of fury and yet bewildered and confused by what transpired that night in 2004. And I saw him at the very top, swallowed up by the confetti-filled euphoria that only a championship can provide. His frighteningly blunt response in both instances is what will always stick out to me. Artest isn't calculated enough to do anything but wear his emotions for all to see.
"The history of me in the playoffs, which I need to get better at, is playing more consistently throughout the playoffs," Artest said on that stage in the Staples Center last June, his family standing behind him and just as giddy as he was.
"Today is one of those days where I trusted in myself and I didn't settle for some shots. I kind of, at the right time, did exactly what Coach Jackson wanted me to do. I just got to thank Coach Jackson for having me and Kobe and the Lakers, for giving me this opportunity, and I'm really, really just enjoying this, and I just can't wait to go to the club."
Had I known Artest would let it all out the the way he did in that interview session, I'd have driven him to the club myself.
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