Ron Artest: Royal Rumbles, Tupac and Math
On the basketball court, it only takes a quick peek at the numbers to see that Ron Artest has fit in quite well with the Lakers.
The traditional statistics show that Artest ranks third on the team in scoring (12.0) behind Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, second in assists (4.6) after Lamar Odom and second in steals behind Bryant, while the more advanced show that he's leading the team in plus/minus with +73 for the season, or plus 10.4 per seven games.
In other words, the Lakers have outscored their opponents by an average of 10.4 points per game when Artest is on the court, which is by far the best in the team. In fact, the only game that showed a negative number in plus/minus for Artest was the Dallas loss, when he was minus two. By comparison, every other starter (Bryant, Odom, Bynum and Derek Fisher) were at least minus 20 in that game. Without question, his outstanding defense is the easiest way to explain those numbers, but his passing ability and increasing-daily understanding of the offense are contributing as well.
Yet on this day, we sat down with Artest to talk about everything but basketball, opting for such things as his favorite wrestler (the Ultimate Warrior), artist (Tupac Shakur), subject in college (math) and more.
MT: Growing up in Queensbridge, New York, what was one thing you really enjoyed doing other than playing hoops?
Artest: I was really into wrestling when I was a kid. Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were my favorites. I never wrestled with my (friends), but we always watched it.
MT: Remember when they used to have the “Royal Rumble,” which was basically like a last-man-standing-in-the-ring competition? Who on your new Lakers team would win an all-squad Rumble?
Artest: Probably (D.J.) Mbenga. I just can’t see him losing.
MT: Sure, he’s seven-feet tall with no body fat and crazy reach, but I guess it’s the black belt in judo that’s really the difference…
Artest: That’s definitely the difference. All day. He’s very strong, but he’s also agile.
MT: Still, I don’t know how many people would bet against you ... But let’s switch over to music – how about your all-time top five artists?
Artest: Probably Tupac (Shakur), Eminem, Slick Rick, Nas and Scarface. I really do love Biggy also, but he never was one of my favorites. I like Lil’ Wayne, but he’s no 2pac yet, he’s no Slick Rick. He’s still young though. You have to give him a couple years - he has a big window in front of him to get there yet. Because ‘Pac definitely had a way of flowing. He told stories about where he was from, and he was really political. I liked that.
MT: What was your take on the whole East Coast vs. West Coast thing?
Artest: I thought it’d didn’t make no sense. It was started by some knuckleheads, and some people wanted to see that. It made no sense for people to fight over a coast.
MT: You told me the other day that you don’t watch and wouldn’t want to be on reality shows like “Survivor” – even though I think you’d win – or “Fear Factor,” so what do you watch?
Artest: I used to watch “American Gladiators,” that was good, definitely one of my favorites. I can still watch that show now.
MT: Speaking of a show you could win … Or you could just be a Gladiator.
Artest: (Nodding) Yeah, probably. I actually met one of them one time.
MT: Turbo? Nitro? Anyway, let's get one basketball question in here. I want to get your take on Kobe Bryant, whom you’ve admired from an opposing point of view for several years before getting the chance to play with him.
Artest: Kobe is tough, he’s a great competitor, he’s smart, he’s a leader and he is always trying to work harder than everybody. That’s why I like him. I’m not going to compare him to anybody, I’m just going to say he’s the greatest to ever play.
MT: People may not know that you were a math major at St. Johns before going pro after your sophomore year…
Artest: That was my favorite class, the most fun and most exciting for me. You never knew what the outcome was going to be depending on the question or the equation. But that’s what I liked about math, being able to come up with the right answer and know exactly what it was.
MT: Six years before college in New York, you began playing AAU ball with L.A.’s own Lamar Odom. Later, current 76er Elton Brand came down from Westchester to join you. Who was the best?
Artest: Elton was an inch or so ahead of Lamar, and Lamar was next, and then I think it was me. We were always neck-and-neck with each other as far as careers, but we all did different things and had different personalities. Elton was always the leader of the pack, but we all played our part.
MT: Anybody who has met Lamar knows how warm he is as a person. What can you tell us about how he was as a kid?
Artest: He was the same. He went through a lot, grew up in a rough neighborhood, but was always Lamar. He was always really funny, loved his teammates, loved to play basketball. Just like now. He is just a great person.
MT: Adam Morrison told me that “toast” was what he cooked best. How about you?
Artest: Nothing, really. My wife cooks everything. If I had to make something, it’d be something like a can of beans. (Something) I could stick in a microwave or a pot.
MT: He doesn’t anymore, but Kobe used to eat McDonalds quite a bit, game days included. Are you a fast food guy at all?
Artest: Not at all. I’m not a fan of fast food, it’s not good for you. I’d rather sit down and get something to eat … but if I’m going to get a burger, it’s going to be from In ‘N’ Out. I think they have the healthiest burgers, but I wouldn’t advise anybody to eat (any) fast food.
MT: What’s in your wife’s repertoire?
Artest: She makes Mexican food like burritos, Italian food like lasagna, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese … she makes all kinds of things and I love it all.
MT: Finally Ron, you’ve done quite a bit of world traveling, including treks to China and Kenya. What has that done for you?
Artest: Life-changing. It changed my view of the world and of myself, especially going to Africa. Just seeing poor people are. At the end of the day we’re all human – everyone feels the same pain, and it was (hard to see that). I’ve been to Honduras too, and it was also pretty tough. You want (all people) to be able to eat, you want them to have shelter, you want them to have water and be able to go to the bathroom. It was tough.