Is Artest a Marketable Star?

by Conrad Brunner

September 10, 2004

Friday, September 10, 2004

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Conrad Brunner
Q. I have recently noticed that Ron Artest changed his uniform number from 23 to 91. Recently, I have seen a lot more Ron Artest jerseys (especially the throwbacks), even here in Houston. With his newest number flip-flop, he has had three numbers (15, 23, and now 91) in four years. My question is: Even with his recent jump in popularity and prominence in the NBA, is Artest a marketable player? Will he ever be a star if he continues to demonstrate quirky and sometimes distracting behavior?

I'm a fan of his, and I supported him through his shooting woes and technical foul streak. I am aware that he wants a shoe contract after his quarterly shoe-swap at the All-Star game. If he truly wants to be a star, maybe he should tone down his wild ways a bit more. I respect his individuality, but the rest of the league's fans may not. (From Dylan in Houston)

A. There are as many different kinds of marketability as there are target markets. Consider the case of the last NBA player to wear No. 91. Dennis Rodman became a counter-culture icon because of his eccentricities, a status that lives to this day even though he is four years removed from the end of his NBA career. But Rodman wouldn’t have been marketable in any way had he not attained a legitimate measure of stardom for his performance. It doesn’t matter how outrageous you look or act; if you can’t play, no one’s going to buy what you’re selling.

I haven’t talked to Artest yet about his decision to change numbers, but I suspect any homage to Rodman is based on the way he played. Until his last couple of seasons, Rodman was very much a warrior, a guy willing to give up his body to do whatever was necessary to help the team win – and a guy that displayed a real passion for the game. Those are traits any quality player would like to embody.

Make no mistake, Artest already is a star. His trophy case holds evidence of that: Defensive Player of the Year, Eastern Conference All-Star, All-NBA Third Team. It’s not coincidental that the recognition came after a season in which his on-court demeanor was much more mature and his productivity, particularly on offense, took a substantial jump. He has therefore established his credibility as a player. Should he continue to improve in both areas, the opportunities to expand his marketability will present themselves. It’ll then be up to Artest to determine the direction he’d like to take his image.