His heart is our altar
Today in our little corner of McSweeney's, I venture the impossible: that, in ways as of yet unfathomable to the league's current way of construing things, Artest is this season's honorary MVP. Not because of the year he had (abridged AND not Kobe), but because of what he's proved about himself and his relevance to today's Association. It kind of got me nostalgic for the good old days of this blog, when Artest seemed like the Rosetta Stone of our entire hastily defined mission. In fact, if any message board discussion made it clear that we had to take this mess public, it was the several days of frenzied activity that followed in the wake of The Brawl. As much as we get hassled for being Arenas cultists, Bryant partisans, and Amare suicide bombers, it's Artest who we've probably most ardently defended, most attentively examined, and expected the most of.
With that in mind, I would like to this essential guide to FreeDarko's relationship with Artest. The off-shore piece on him seems like the logical culmination of it all, so if anyone is wondering how to reconcile it with several months of relative silence concerning the League's Most Dangerous Man. . .
Prologue: If you dare to venture into our distant archives, you'll notice all sorts of elliptic allusions to Artest's return. It was our stock punchline, our heartfelt prophecy, and the only thing we thought could top '04-'05. Witness DLIC's exhausted farewell to FreeDarko's first brush with playoff coverage.
Things started to heat up as this season approached. Artest somehow became the centerpiece of the longest thing i've ever wrote, and one of my several abortive season previews predicted the greatest of all honors for our man on the edge. I marked the most solemn of all Jewish holidays with yet another apocalyptic reorganization of the universe that placed Artest atop it all. Not all that different from my take on him now, but a lot stupider and probably not as radically precise.
Then came the trade demands, and I for one went scurrying away from the cause like it was a dream weighed down too heavy with sleep. We'd come of age defending him in the wake of Auburn Hills, which had taken a considerable amout of spirit and delusion. Now, it was still possible, but all moral high ground had been shed. In all truth, it was now just an extreme version of an all-too-ordinary scenario, as emynd detailed at the time.
Time passed, Artest languished, and I opted to forget rather then deal with where his saga was heading. I barely noticed when rumors of the done deal with the Kings first came down, and was perfectly content to let him disappear to over there. He would do what he would, and FreeDarko would be free of him. But then came Killa's first signs of an uneventful return also let me down, and I couldn't help but let forth yet another overly long earth-ender on Artest, who really might have all along been shorthand for the league as an idealized whole, or at least my view of it. Just like Cam.
That was at the trading deadline. Between then and now, the only significant mention of him came when DLIC suggested, somewhat desperately, that the old fantasy of Artest-as-center still held the key to breaking our now-legendary '06 ennui. As I worked through my latest version of Artest, I wondered if all we'd said in the past—and some especially glaring silences surrounding him—made the argument more or less credible to our faithful readers. Because on some level, these McSweeney's columns have to read differently for anyone who has already suffered through however many months of our thoughts on these subjects. Thus, I like to believe that, like the man himself at this juncture of history, FreeDarko's view of Artest could either be a new beginning or proof of an eternal, noble flame burning beneath all the splintered car parts.
P.S. I have absolutely no interest in destroying the South. In fact, Tyra Banks is on my murder list this morning, I'd rather live in Katrina country than ever go back to New York, and I'm finally ready to admit that I've spent more of my life below the Mason-Dixon than atop it. Now go back and make whatever you will of the Sherman image, preferably something piggybacked on this.