Ron Artest Biography
Took Up Basketball at Counselor's Suggestion, Applied for Appliance-Store Job
Professional basketball player
One November night in 2004, forward Ron Artest of the National Basketball Association's Indiana Pacers went into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit. He started throwing punches after being hit in the chest by a drink cup a Detroit Pistons fan had thrown. The incident, replayed on television screens around the world, turned into a general melee and resulted in a season-long suspension for Artest. People called the fracas "one of the ugliest scenes in NBA history," and it surprised no one who had followed Artest's career closely; he seemed to be, in the words of Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard, "basketball's version of the Incredible Hulk, morphing into a destructive alter ego and then having no memory of the transformation afterward."
Yet many people knew a very different Ron Artest—one who went broke despite his multimillion-dollar salary because he was so insistent about supporting his family, friends, and community, one who donated his time to wheelchair basketball competitions, one who had developed into one of the top young defensive players in the NBA through a combination of enthusiasm and fierce competitiveness. Born on November 13, 1979, in New York City, Ron Artest grew up in the Queensbridge housing project, the largest public housing complex in the United States with its 96 buildings. And it was in that concrete environment that the contradictions in his character began to take shape.
Took Up Basketball
Artest was one of nine children of Ron Artest Sr., a former boxer who worked at a variety of jobs, and Sarah Artest, a bank teller. Various other relatives lived in the family's five-bedroom apartment, which often served as a home for 15 or 16 people at a time. Artest, who grew to six-feet, seven-inches tall and 245 pounds, took to the project's basketball courts when he was eight, at the suggestion of a school counselor concerned about his angry behavior following his parents' separation. Soon he could be found on the court almost every day, summer or winter. Often he played against his father in tough, physical, all-out one-on-one contests. "We were so competitive," Artest recalled to Mike McGraw of the Arlington Heights, Illinois, Daily Herald. "I wanted to beat my dad so badly. Once I was 15, he couldn't beat me again." Pickup basketball games in the neighborhood often escalated from hard fouls to fistfights.
At the LaSalle Academy in Manhattan, Artest became a top high school player in a city dense with basketball talent. But he never his competitive drive never blurred his commitment to his community. At one point he turned down a trip to Paris, France, in order to keep a prior commitment he had made to a wheelchair basketball benefit. Scouts from top basketball schools noticed Artest's intensity, and he enrolled at St. John's University in New York. His competitive drive was apparent to the St. John's coaching staff. "He has this fear of failure," head coach Fran Fraschilla told Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press. "I think it is born out of not wanting to have to go back to Queensbridge without having any status. It's a pride and competitive thing."
Artest played for one year at St. John's. After deciding to turn professional, he was picked by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 1999 draft. Even over the course of a single year, however, his teammates got a good taste of his mercurial personality. He could often be kind and generous, chatting with homeless people, giving encouraging talks to school groups, and impulsively making large donations of cash. His bad temper, on the other hand, was well known; he shouted at his teammates and got into fights on the court. Yet again, he showed a crazy streak, wearing a court jester hat during team road trips.
Applied for Appliance-Store Job
Things continued in the same vein over Artest's three seasons with the Bulls. By the end of the 2001-02 season, Artest was both an offensive and a defensive threat, averaging around 15 points per game and stealing the ball from opponents consistently. (He explained his stealing prowess to reporters by referring to his experience as a shoplifter back home in Queens.) Artest became a well-liked figure among basketball writers, who warmed to his unusual perspectives and activities; he recorded a country song with an elderly woman neighbor at one point, and during his rookie year he filled out a job application at a Circuit City store so that he could get an employee discount on the latest electronic gear.
Yet his intensity on the court spilled out beyond appropriate boundaries; playing against the legendary Bulls star Michael Jordan in a pickup game, he broke two of Jordan's ribs. And his inner anger continued to show itself as, in one of several notorious incidents, he picked up and threw a 150-pound stretching machine, leaving a gouge in the floor of the Bulls' practice court. After Artest's girlfriend Jennifer Palma and the mother of one of his children, filed assault charges against him in May of 2002, he was ordered to attend anger management classes. Artest later married Kimesha Hatfield, with whom he had three more children.
Late in the 2001-02 season, Bulls administrators worried about Artest's outbursts traded him to the Indiana Pacers. Honing his skills on the court and working on aggression issues under the care of a team psychologist, Artest seemed to hit his stride as a player, The duo of Artest and Jermaine O'Neal evolved into perhaps the NBA's most-feared pair of forwards, and at the end of the 2003-04 season Artest was named an NBA All-Star and won the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. He held the players against whom he was matched defensively to impressively low averages of 9.4 shots and 8.1 points a game, and he became an offensive threat with a points-per-game average of 8.3.
Smashed $ Monitor (100,000)
Artest's temper continued to show itself, however; in 2003, at New York's Madison Square Garden, he smashed a video monitor valued at $100,000. He drew six suspensions in the 2002-03 season and two in the 2003-04 campaign. Early in the 2004-05 season, basketball fans wondered whether Artest was beginning to show signs of stress once again. He changed his jersey number from 23 to 91—the number of longtime NBA problem child Dennis Rodman—and he requested time off in order to promote an album he planned to release on the new music label he had formed, TruWarier Records. No one, however, could have predicted what would happen as the Pacers took the court against the Detroit Pistons on November 19, 2004.
The trouble started when Artest fouled Pistons player Ben Wallace in the final minute of the game. Wallace responded with a two-handed shove that sent Artest stumbling backward toward the scorer's table. That might have been the end of it; Artest leaned backward against the table and playfully donned a headset belonging to a radio broadcaster. But then a fan threw a full drink cup at Artest, hitting him near the neck. He instantly leapt several rows into the stands, trading punches with fans along the way, and he was joined by O'Neal and teammate Stephen Jackson. Pistons fans responded with a shower of debris that included a chair, and many present, including Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, feared for their physical safety. Police and guards finally restored order as Artest was dragged from the court.
The resulting suspension Artest drew from NBA commissioner David Stern sidelined him for the rest of the season and cost him $5 million in salary. Artest expressed regret over the incident although he told Jet that "I respect David Stern, but I don't think that he has been fair with me in this situation." Advertising appearances for "The Roc," a music and clothing line devised by entrepreneur and Artest friend Damon Dash, helped pay the bills in 2005. Artest's future remained a question mark despite his tremendous talent. "Deep down there's a heart and somebody who cares," sportswriter Jay Mariotti told People's Pam Lambert, "but he can't control himself on the court, and that's tragic. If he had his head together, he could be a Hall of Fame player." In the summer of 2005, Artest faced a charge of misdemeanor assault and battery, with a maximum penalty of three months in jail and a $500 fine, as a result of the Auburn Hills, Michigan, brawl.
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 16, 1999, p. 1; December 20, 2002, p. 1.
Detroit Free Press, December 26, 2004.
Jet, May 10, 2004, p. 47; December 13, 2004, p. 50.
People, December 6, 2004, p. 103.
PR Newswire, February 4, 2005.
Sporting News, November 29, 2004, p. 10.
Sports Illustrated, February 11, 2002, p. 74; October 28, 2002, p. 98; February 9, 2004, p. 54; November 29, 2004, p. 50.
—James M. Manheim
- Catherine Ann Asaro (1955–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
- Other Free Encyclopedias