Culture of Hoops

Top 50 NBA Players of the 21st Century – #43 Ron Artest

Well hello there! Welcome to my fifth annual Top 50 NBA Players Countdown! In case you are new here, or if you haven’t heard what will be different this time around, allow me to explain!

(That third exclamation point was not necessary)

Typically how this works is in the days leading up to the NBA season, I release a countdown of the Top 50 players currently playing in the National Basketball Association. This year I decided that it was time to remix this idea, expand the pool of players, broaden my horizons, and give myself an excuse to watch a bunch of old games on YouTube.

This time around I’ll be counting down the Top 50 NBA Players of the 2000’s (this means we’re looking at a seventeen season sample size that goes from the 1999-00 season all the way through the 2015-16 season). I’ve detailed the criteria I used to make this awfully long list. If you want to check it out, you can do so by clicking here.

The Resume
16 years, 8 quality, 1 All-Star … 1-time All NBA (’04), 4-time All-Defensive Team (’03-’04, ’06, ’09), ’04 Defensive Player of the Year … Starter on one champion (’10 Lakers) … ’03-’04 Playoffs: 19-6-3-2, 38% FG, 32% 3PT, 74% FT (21 games) … Instigator of the Malice at the Palace

Overall Averages: 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 32.4 minutes, 42% FG, 11.6 FGA, 34% 3PT, 3.5 3PA, 72% FT, 3.7 FTA, 966 Games Played

4-Year Regular Season Peak: 18.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.0 steals, 37.6 minutes, 43% FG, 15.5 FGA, 37% 3PT, 4.4 3PA, 72% FT, 5.1 FTA, 252 Games Played

Here are 14 Fun Facts about the one, the only, Ron Artest (a.k.a. Metta World Peace, a.k.a. The Pandas Friend).

1: The reason I picked 14 Fun Facts? 14 is the record number of weeks that “Macarena” was the #1 single in the country in 1996. When Artest joined the Los Angeles Lakers he opted to wear #37 in honor of Michael Jackson‘s Thriller album topping the Billboard charts for 37 weeks. I think that sets the precedent for me to be able to pay tribute to “Macarena” and Los Del Rio.

2: It’s impossible to go any further without discussing the most damaging incident in NBA history: the Malice at the Palace. Yeah, I know we just started, but the M.A.T.P. is without a doubt one of the five biggest black eye’s the league has ever suffered and Ron Artest (or Metta World Peace, or The Pandas Friend, or whatever the hell he’s calling himself these days) will always first be remembered for being the instigator of this terrible incident, so it’s necessary to talk about it right away.

3: You could make an argument that Ben Wallace was actually the instigator, since he was the one who shoved Artest and got the ball rolling. Sure, Artest technically got the ball rolling since he flagrantly fouled Big Ben prior to Wallace’s hard shove, but technically Artest didn’t respond to a hard foul by Wallace at the other end on the previous possession.

4: Stephen Jackson came off clearly more crazy than Artest did despite the fact that Artest charged into the crowd to attack a fan. Before Artest even entered the lower bowl Jackson had already challenged the entire Pistons roster to a fight, and once Artest made his move into the stands Jackson quickly followed suit.

5: It was Jermaine O’Neal who wound up for the biggest punch of the entire melee, but luckily for him (and the fan whose face he was going to cave in with the aforementioned punch), he slipped on a wet spot on the floor and didn’t fully connect. Jermaine O’Neal and Javaris Crittenton could be sharing a prison cell if he did connect.

6: Near the end of the fight Jamaal Tinsley re-entered the arena from the locker room area carrying a dust pan like it was two-by-four. He came out of this incident, miraculously, unscathed. That could have been assault with a deadly weapon. It also happened to be the second most unintentionally funny moment of the entire Malice at the Palace. The most unintentionally funny moment of the incident came when Mike Breen said, “Ron Artest has a look in his eye that is very scary right now.” Every time I hear it I think of this Step Brothers scene:

7: Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season and soon after requested to be traded from the Pacers. In the middle of the following season he was sent to Sacramento in exchange for Peja Stojakovic, a move that put an end to the Artest Era in Indiana, one that, had the Malice at the Palace never happened, could have included an NBA Title. Remember, Indiana was putting the finishing touches on an early season ass-whooping against the defending champions on the road. Right before Artest entered the stands, I have to believe Indiana would have been the Vegas favorite to win the NBA Title. What a shame.

8: For the most part, Artest was on his best behavior in Sacramento. Well, he did get suspended for Game 2 of the Kings 1st Round series against the Spurs in ’06 for elbowing Manu Ginobili in the head, but again, on the Ron Artest Scale of Crazy that’s only like a 4 or 5. It wasn’t quite as bad as …

9: The elbow Artest (now Metta World Peace, ironically) drilled James Harden with during a late-season game in 2012. It was incredibly violent and it’s still difficult to watch, so when in a second when I talk about my favorite part of the incident, you’ll have to forgive me. My favorite part of Artest’s elbow to Harden’s dome was the reaction of Lakers fans, who actually defended Metta and acted like it wasn’t purposeful and it may have even been Harden’s fault for getting in Metta’s way. Delusional fandom at its absolute finest right there. Artest won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award four days shy of one full year prior to this incident.

10: We’re at Fun Fact #10 and I haven’t even mentioned that Ron Artest admitted to drinking Hennessy in the Bulls locker room at halftime during games as an underage rookie. My friend Weston once bought Willis McGahee a Hennessy and Sprite at a rooftop bar in Miami Beach. These are by far my two favorite stories that involve Hennessy.

11: Back in 2010 when asked what his favorite movie was, this was World Peace’s answer:

“Titanic. When DiCaprio is trying to save the young lady, that was dope. When she tries to save him, and he dies, that was dope too. That whole situation was tragic. When I saw the baby in the water, frozen? I cried a little, but mostly I was pissed. I’d just had my daughter, so when I saw that frozen baby, I was like, ‘What the f — !? That’s bull — !’ And let’s not forget about Céline Dion. That woman is unbelievable. You know how much I love my music? Well, I wouldn’t put out a song for 10 years if that meant I could put out a song with her. Her voice sounds like pure fresh air. It sounds like what it sounded like when the world was created.”

I never knew this until I did all of my Ron Artest research. My appreciation for Ron has skyrocketed over the last two months. I’ll go to war for anyone who has love for Titanic.

12: Back in 2011 Ron Artest released a music video for his song “Go Loco” that co-starred Fat Joe and George Lopez. I don’t have any fundamental issues with basketball players trying to be rappers. The only issue I have with “Go Loco” is that it didn’t come out in 2004 when a music video featuring Ron Artest, Fat Joe and George Lopez would have easily been the biggest pop culture happening of the Summer.

13: I’ve spent quite a bit of time poking fun at Ron Artest’s on and off-court antics (by the way, all of it was warranted), but he wouldn’t have cracked the Top 50 list if he weren’t indisputably deserving. Artest was a savage competitor and an elite defensive player for the better part of his career. He was deceptively quick and absurdly strong, technically sound as a defender yet brutally competitive and rightfully fearless (those things don’t normally go hand in hand … in hand in hand). This is why Artest was a multiple time member of the All-Defensive Team, and along with Kawhi Leonard, one of two wings to win Defensive Player of the Year in my lifetime.

Had Artest come along ten years earlier —  if he burst onto the scene in 1992 and peaked from 1995 through 1999 — he would have been a multiple time All-Star, one of the marquee Jordan irritants, and the go-to-guy for any stubborn fan of mid-’90’s rock fight basketball to point to and say “Look, NBA players used to be tough … now they’re all just entitled pussies! Get off my lawn!” It was a time when it wasn’t necessary for wings to be able to hit outside jumpers with any consistency so Artest’s offensive shortcomings wouldn’t have mattered. He would have been able to do all of the things that made him great (talk shit, get under opponents skin, instigate fights, attack the basket, play handsy defense and clank mid-range jumpers) during a time when that was the NBA.

14: And somehow, Artest was lucky enough to find himself in a ugly, disjointed rock fight circa 1995 in the absolute biggest game of his career. Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals was far from pretty, but it was the night the Ron Artest Experience reached its peak. Artest pestered Paul Pierce into a 5-for-15 shooting night, chipped in 20 points of his own, and hit one of the all-time clutch three-pointers in NBA history late in the 4th quarter, a shot that nobody really remembers despite the fact that no Lakers fan would have wanted Artest taking that shot in that moment.

I asked my cousin Pauley, one of the Laker fans who would later begrudgingly defend Artest when he took James Harden‘s head off, his thoughts on that Game 7 and one of the first things he said about the game was how it was Artest’s best game as a Laker. He undersold it. Given the stakes, given Artest’s past AND future, given the era, it was probably the best game Artest ever played. Even more than for the Malice at the Palace, I’ll remember Artest for that Game 7.

Alright, that’s a lie.

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