By John Clayton
Indianapolis, February 3, 2004
Ron Artest was in his old neighborhood in Queensbridge, NY, when he ran into his father, Ron Sr., early Tuesday afternoon with some good news.
Rampant speculation had become official. Artest had been elected to his first NBA All-Star team. Ron Sr. was as ecstatic as his son seemed relieved.
“You made it!” he said. “Man, you made it!”
Like many of Artest’s friends, teammates and family members, Ron Sr. had anxiously awaited word of his son’s All-Star fate. Artest finished fourth among Eastern Conference forwards in fan balloting announced last week. Artest would have to be voted in as a reserve by Eastern Conference coaches for the Feb. 15 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“It’s a big step in the right direction,” said Artest of the honor. “I feel like it’s a tribute to the team. I’m just thankful for the team that I’m on. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have made it. We’re playing really good right now.”
While there has been considerable speculation about Artest making his first All-Star appearance, he has spent most of the last week downplaying the prospect of the announcement.
Still, an All-Star selection for the fifth-year pro out of St. John’s can be seen as a measure of redemption for Artest. The Pacers’ shutdown defender all season, routinely defending the opposition’s top scorers, Artest also is averaging a career-best 17.7 points per game (second on the team). He also leads the Pacers in steals (2.11 per game) and is second in assists (3.9 per game).
Artest said he didn’t want the announcement to become a distraction as the team prepares to face the resurgent Knicks at Madison Square Garden, in Artest’s native New York City.
“I just want everybody to be focused on the game,” he said. “That’d be nice.”
Artest joins Pacers teammate Jermaine O’Neal on the Eastern Conference roster. O’Neal was named a starter after fan balloting was completed and Artest was elected as a reserve by a vote of Eastern Conference coaches. The Eastern Conference squad will be coached by Rick Carlisle and his staff.
“The coaches’ vote is a very important vote,” said Carlisle. “The coaches, I believe, vote with a pure heart. They vote for the best competitors and the guys who are about winning, so it’s good that Ron was voted in by the coaches and I know Jermaine would have been had he not been elected by the fans. Winning is what those two are all about.”
Artest is joined as a reserve on the team by New Jersey’s Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, Boston’s Paul Pierce, New Orleans’ Baron Davis and Jamaal Magloire and Milwaukee shooting guard Michael Redd. O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Ben Wallace were announced last week as the Eastern Conference starters.
“Ron Artest has really earned the title All-Star,” Carlisle said after Artest led the Pacers with 24 points against the Lakers. “He and Jermaine O’Neal, you’d have a hard time arguing against those two being the top forward tandem in all of basketball, the way they play on both ends of the court.
“It’s an honor that’s certainly well-deserved. There are a lot of terrific offensive players in the league, but there are very few guys who can play at such a high level on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The two of them are really complete players at their positions.
Artest’s selection does mean the annual family trip to Disney World during the All-Star break will have to be postponed – or at least moved to Disneyland this year.
While Artest took a wait-and-see approach prior to his selection, his wife, Kimisha, has been confident that the family would be heading to Los Angeles instead of Orlando. He said she has been making plans for the West Coast all along, even if Disneyland has to be a side trip.
“Knowing her, we’d have to do what she said anyway, but I think she wants to go to L.A.,” he said. “She’s been looking forward to going to the game.”