HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Our favorite Laker is back in the headlines this week, gobbling up his share of the spotlight.
But before you go knocking Ron Artest, know that he’s in the public eye right now for all the right reasons.
Ron-Ron’s well-detailed mental health issues have always been a part of the deal, but only recently has anyone begun to really listen to his message about the gains he’s made in dealing with those issues.
And this isn’t some self-serving pursuit. Artest’s aim is to help others, particularly the children.
The Laker who impulsively dyes his hair, tweets his anger and was recently stopped by police while driving what appeared to be a Formula One race car through Los Angeles was speaking to middle schoolers about the importance of mental stability?
“I was like, I don’t think I can do this, this is an important issue and I won’t want to get out the wrong message,” Artest told several hundred young teens. “Then I said, ‘You know what?… Who else better to do this than me?’ ”
And so he did it. At the invitation of Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk), who is pushing a bill providing funding for schools to set up mental health programs, Artest stepped back into the punch line of the joke that has haunted him for most of his 30 years.
In torn jeans, tennis shoes, collared shirt, sport coat and vulnerable grin, the wacky one took the stage at his weakest.
I’ve never seen him stronger.
For 20 minutes in an auditorium that was hushed and reverent, the Lakers tough guy bared not his elbows or his fists, but his soul.
Artest talked about being in therapy from the time his parents separated when he was 13 years old. He talked about being counseled for anger issues, marriage issues, parenting issues.
“I’m like, how can a kid in East L.A … get the same help that I got without paying so much?” he said.
Artest embraced every stereotype about him, explained every rip, displayed the sort of courage that goes far beyond staring down Paul Pierce.
“When you think about mental health, you don’t have to be afraid,” he said.
Artest acknowledged the stress of being a father at age 16. He talked about growing up in a family with a history of mental illness. He urged the youngsters to seek out school counselors.
“That doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it just means you have some issues in your life,” he said. “This is a way to be able to talk to somebody about your problems.”
Sometimes he jumbled his thoughts. At one point he stared down for several long minutes at his script. It was funky, but it was perfect, and when he ended the speech by simply waving his hands and saying, “See ya later,” the children roared.
“I don’t know how we got so lucky to be able find Ron,” said Napolitano.
Artest’s only more impressive performance in his first Lakers season was his brilliant Game 7 against the Boston Celtics, after which he made everyone laugh again by publicly thanking “my psychiatrist.”
I’m not laughing now. He has the smarts to mean it. He has the bravery to say it.
A year ago this time no one would have bothered listening to Artest about a topic as serious as this one, or almost anything else for that matter.
It’s always been easy to dismiss him as “crazy” or whatever word folks like to use. But not anymore. He cannot be dismissed anymore, on or off the court.
And Artest deserves kudos for using his championship platform for such a noble pursuit.
So if he wants to change his number (below), sell his championship ring or do just about anything else (legal and within reason), we’re in full support around here.