They may not be the best. They’re not even the most popular. But, they’re still transcendent in their own way. The SLAM PH team comes together to show love to the crazy (sometimes literally) cult heroes of the Association.
The year was 2004. A relatively chill, NBA regular season game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons was about to reach its conclusion. The Pacers were leading 97-82 with 45.9 ticks left.
The game was essentially over at that point.
Every Pistons fan inside the The Palace of Auburn Hills was dead silent as they were watching their team get beaten by the Pacers.
Suddenly, chaos ensued. As Pistons center Ben Wallace went for a layup, he was fouled hard by a Pacer. Wallace retaliated. He shoved the player hard. Tempers flared. Thankfully, a brewing brawl between the players from both teams was averted.
Until, it wasn’t.
A fan from the stands threw a cup of beer to the player that fouled Wallace as he was lying, mockingly, in the announcer’s table.
The player stood up. Jumped into the stands and went after the fan.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Malice in the Palace. The most infamous brawl in NBA and probably, sports history.
A disastrous event that centered on the one player who foolishly fouled Wallace in what was basically a done game, went after a fan, and caught on live TV punching a fan straight to the face.
His name? Ron Artest.
I was eight years old at the time when I witnessed the brawl on the late night news. As a kid who was just still learning the game of basketball, I was terrified.
However, as an avid Lakers fan, I couldn’t care less. At the time, any game not involving Kobe Bryant or the Lakers was meaningless shenanigans for me.
But because of the massive impact it had on the sports world at that day, I was intrigued. After watching and reading up more about the Malice in the Palace, it ended up leaving an eerie mark on me that would last for years to come: I branded Artest as a villain and back then, nothing would ever change that for me.
As Artest jumped on to different teams in the following years, my distaste for him never wavered.
It reached a tipping point during the 2009 playoffs.
Artest was playing for the Houston Rockets. They were undermanned and in terms of talent, they were a complete underdog. Yet, they managed to reach a do or die Game 7 in the Western Semis matchup against a powerhouse team at that time: yes, you guessed it, the Lakers.
To make matters worse, Artest became the complete antagonist to my personal hero, Kobe Bryant. At that point, one thing is clear. I HATED Ron Artest and nothing would ever change that.
Or so I thought.
Entering the 2010 NBA season, after winning its first championship post-Shaq, the Lakers acquired Artest via trade for Trevor Ariza. Suddenly, I had to root for Artest.
At first, it was a hard to pill to swallow. But as the season progressed, I finally found peace in having to cheer for him.
In fact, he became my most favorite Laker during their 2010 championship run. Even with his unforgettable and troubled past still haunting him, he was able to deliver iconic Playoff moments for the Lakers.
Who could ever forget his weird looking follow up buzzer beater against the Phoenix Suns during Game 5 of their West Finals series after not making a single field goal the whole game?
He then followed it up with a 25 point performance in Game 6.
His most important Laker moment came during Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics where he hit a crucial right wing three pointer.
As he blew the flying kiss that was the exclamation point to their 2010 championship, my love and hate for Artest came full circle. In a span of a year, he went my most despised player to the most beloved.
(He also had the most epic Finals presscon ever.)
Years passed and Artest remained one of the greatest and weirdly entertaining players for the Lakers. He legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. He was always funny on post-game interviews. He was goofy off the court and on the court during Laker games.
And of course, his crazy antics and involvement in altercations were still there.
(Who could’ve ever forget him elbowing James Harden after a dunk celebration?!)
But through it all, every foolish act that he did or altercation he’d be involved in, my love for him wouldn’t waver. I came to truly appreciate the player and the person Ron Artest is.
That in his own misunderstood way, he was willing to make the sacrifices for the team. He came to the Lakers and gladly settled for a 3-and-D role after being the first or second option, offensively, for his previous teams. He made the dirty plays, the scrappy plays and defended the opponent’ best player. Most of all, he got under the skin of the opposing teams with his antics even if it meant also getting into the nerves of his teammates and the Laker fans. But in the end, those antics helped get thw W
Everyone may not love him. But that’s okay. He is who he is. He is the same Artest who was one of the instigators of the biggest brawl in NBA history. He is the same Ron Artest who elbowed James Harden to the face. He is the same Ron Artest who admitted to drinking booze at halftime during game early in his career.
He is also the same Ron Artest who is a great teammate, veteran leader and a person always seeking for redemption. He is the same Ron Artest who will thrive under the biggest of pressure.
He’s misunderstood, misguided and sometimes, literally crazy.
But underneath it all, he has Metta. And that’s what made him truly special.
Photo from Reuters
READ: Cult Hero Week