As Artest Gets Closer, Championship Passion Grows Stronger
Ron and his Tinsel Town brethren were preparing for Game 1 of the Finals against Boston, his journey from NBA castoff to NBA champion with the Lakers almost complete. The younger Daniel was on Interstate 65, driving 176 miles from Zionsville, Indiana to Oak Park, Ill. for one last shot at his own hoops happiness rather than heading West to live vicariously through his better-known brother.
"There's a tryout for some teams overseas, and I've just got to try one more time," Daniel told FanHouse by phone as he barreled down the highway. "Ron will be fine. He's chasing his own dream of being a champion, and I think it's going to happen.
"Everything that happened, from the brawl to everything and the scrutiny he has gone through ... for him to be in this situation, he has to win the championship. It's like the movie, the script and everything is going well, and he has to win. I truly believe we're going to be celebrating in the Artest family."
Ron and the Lakers took a huge step in that direction, dominating the Celtics 102-89 in a game in which they led by as many as 20 points. Artest won the first round of the much-anticipated matchup with Paul Pierce, helping hold him to just 11 points through three quarters before he padded his stats with a 13-point fourth quarter that lacked any relevance. Pierce also had three turnovers.
It took the longtime rivals all of 27 seconds to remind each other why there's a subtle dislike there, as Artest and Pierce had double technical fouls called early in the first quarter when they were tangled and testy on the floor. Artest offered yet another reminder that he can be a potent scorer, hitting five of 10 shots overall and three of five three-pointers en route to a 15-point outing.
The crowd around him could have gone away and you wonder if Artest would have noticed. He is playing more free these days, more confident, his focus having returned and his recent string of good play coming at the perfect time for these Lakers. Whether on a hardwood floor just outside of Chicago or on the game's biggest stage, it was Artest playing basketball.
"I think I'm just enjoying the game so much, and all that enjoyment is leading me to focus," Artest told FanHouse afterward. "It's different. It just feels different."
While Artest wasn't about to talk as if a title was both his and theirs -- "If I answer that (question about a championship), then I won't be respecting my opponent, and we've got a Game 2 to play, and I respect them too much," he said -- the odds once again fell in their favor considering Phil Jackson-coached teams are 47-0 in seven-game series when winning the first game. But has so often been the case this season, his brother was more than willing to say everything Ron can't or won't.
Daniel gained a fair amount of social media infamy this season, often tweeting messages in favor of his brother and in disfavor of his brother's opponents or even his teammates. But it was his digital duel with former Laker Trevor Ariza that gained the most notice, with Daniel criticizing the player whom Ron essentially replaced. To review, Artest signed with the Lakers last summer after they let Ariza leave for Houston, and the debate began as to why a championship team would substitute a known commodity for one of the most unpredictable personalities in sports history in Artest.
Ariza himself took offense to Daniel's analysis, with the two going back and forth online for all to see. Silly as it was, any true answer to that question couldn't come until Artest and the Lakers reached this very stage once again.
"I just want him to get that ring, because then my whole Trevor Ariza argument on Twitter is vindicated," said Daniel, who routinely clarifies that he is a San Antonio fan and the furthest thing from a Laker fan.
Mitch Kupchak wants Artest to win it for a more generic reason: he enjoys seeing hard work rewarded.
The Lakers general manager raved about his small forward before the game, not only for his play but for his level of professionalism he simply didn't see coming. Kupchak admitted that he had cause for concern last summer, but any fear he had of Artest's persona was quelled by his confidence in the game's most respected coach in Jackson and most influential veterans in Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. But not until recently did Kupchak see another side of Artest, the part of him that focuses even more the closer he gets to this end.
"Quite frankly, it's been a pleasant surprise to be around him," Kupchak told FanHouse. "His teammates like him. He's upbeat. He's delightfully different. That's one way of saying it. He desperately wants to fit in, and he desperately wants to win. There's no doubt in my mind."
Kupchak has seen the desire reach new levels in recent days.
"This guy, right now, is as focused as he can be," he continued. "To some degree, it's very similar to Kobe, who is as focused as he can be, and we know how focused Kobe gets. That's how Ron Artest is right now. He has come back to the facility the last two or three nights by himself just to shoot at night. No trainers, nobody.
"Sometimes guys come back with three or four people, and Ron's just out there by himself shooting. I hope he plays well, and I hope he is rewarded."