Could Artest Emerge as Team Leader?

by Conrad Brunner

August 1, 2005

Monday, August 1, 2005
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Conrad Brunner

Q. What are the chances that Ron Artest will emerge as the team's principal leader instead of Jermaine O'Neal? In my estimation, Ron has a much stronger personality than does Jermaine and obviously is doing everything he can to cleanse his soul and reputation of last Fall's mess, such as playing in the summer league and working with the rookies and free agents. He also is just as skilled and talented as Jermaine and actually has more on-the-floor energy. Emerging as a leader could also help to settle him down and cement his future with the Pacers as another Hall-of-Fame shoe-in. I know, by Larry Bird's comments and actions, he has a great deal of confidence in Ron. (From Tony in Lakeville, Ind.)

A. Heading into the first season of the post-Reggie era, the issue of team leadership is a hot one, not only among fans but with the franchise itself. Larry Bird has challenged O'Neal to step forward into a full leadership role this season, on the court and in the locker room. It's a role O'Neal has respectfully and willingly yielded to Miller in recent years while preparing himself for the day he would step forward. That day has arrived, and O'Neal appears well-equipped to lead. Not only is he one of the best big men in the game, he is a thoughtful, sincere man who isn't afraid to voice his opinion. He wants the responsibility that comes with leadership, and that's no small factor.

Artest, on the other hand, has always gone his own way. Much quieter in the locker room, more of a lone-wolf personality, Artest speaks through his actions. His summer outreach to undrafted rookies and free agents isn't a new sign of emerging leadership qualities. He's been doing that for years because he relates well to underdogs, appreciates their desire to get into the NBA and wants to help however he can. He has pledged to be a better teammate this season, to sacrifice individual glory for the benefit of the group. If that happens, there's every chance other players will begin to follow his lead.

Therein lies the core of the issue of leadership. Leaders aren't appointed. They emerge on their own. Ultimately, the players in the locker room will decide whose voice will be heard. The evolution of the Pacers' leadership structure will be one of the major issues of this season, but it depends as much on the followers as those who would lead.