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Scott Howard-Cooper

The irony of winning the J. Walker Kennedy Citizenship Award wasn't lost on Ron Artest.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

From awards to his play, Artest enters a strange, new world

Posted Apr 28 2011 9:43AM

It's not really about the recognition. Ron Artest did a great public service by advocating increased awareness and funding for mental-health issues among youth, donating his boundless energy, his money and, perhaps, saving lives. It was role model-type work.

Except that, yeah, it is about the recognition.

Some people have an NBA rap sheet. Artest has an NBA rap catalogue. Yet there he was Tuesday night at Staples Center, accepting the trophy in a pre-game ceremony for winning the annual J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, chosen by the Professional Basketball Writers Association to honor a coach or player for standout community-service work. Of course it's about the recognition.

How can it not be? Ron Artest was just saluted for citizenship. Don't worry. The irony was not lost on him either.

That he then went out and scored eight of his 11 points in the second half of the Lakers' Game 5 victory that put them in position to close out the Hornets tonight at New Orleans Arena only made the moment more complete. Artest has likely been the most consistent player on the team during the first round just as he was being lauded for carrying himself as a role model.

What a little bizzaro world we've got going. Artest is the dependable Laker, about a year after being pilloried in the playoffs for frustrating showings and wild shots. Artest is the one held up as an example of properly representing the league, after, well, everything.

"It's kind of weird," he said. "If you look at my past, everybody knows what happened in the past, with the brawl, fights, suspensions and all that stuff. This is another part of that story. Over the years, I've been telling people, 'You've got to wait for the end result.' They said, 'Where do you see yourself?' I don't know yet. You've got to wait and let it happen. This is a part of the process....

"There have been ups and downs like a roller coaster ride. But this is one of the times when you look back and say it was all worth it. Everything that I've been through, it continues to make me who I am today. I definitely appreciate it and everybody saying congratulations."

He was asked if this will change people's impression of him, and whether he cares.

"I used to always say I don't care what people think about me," Artest replied. "It's not that you don't care what people think about you. It's that you've got to stick to who you are. If you change, they're definitely not going to believe in who you are. It's best to stay faithful, stay true to who you are, become a better person when you can still be yourself."

It is impossible to know the impact of Artest's work that included raffling off his 2010 championship ring and appearing before Congressional staffers in support of a bill to increase support in schools for mental-health issues. He has also said he plans to donate his 2011-12 salary -- $6.79 million -- to the cause.

The greatest role, though, is that Artest has talked openly about seeking help to deal with emotional issues, a move experts in the field believe will help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage others to show the strength to reach out to a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor. That, in turn, could stop a problem from reaching a crisis stage.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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