Playing With House Pancakes
You want to know why I didn't flinch when Shaqobronix, or whatever it's called, came to pass? Why I was lukewarm on the Celtics, and to this day think my premonition was right? It's because this is what a real meeting of the minds should feel like.
Let's stop momentarily and honor Trevor Ariza, who will have a bright career elsewhere, starting with Houston, where he will either make okay to like Shane Battier, displace him the way we thought James White might do Bowen, or both. I know how important he was to that championship run. But that's in the past. They got the ring; these things are filled with singularities, contingencies, and rarely start-to-finish mandates. He was part of one crazy summer, and now instead, Ron Artest will be a Laker.
What makes Artest such a magical beast is that he's exactly the opposite of a championship. That place in history was a flux that ends in certainty. Artest is forever bold statements and stands, all adding up to bouquet of question marks. He can do nothing to surprise is, partly due to our numbness, but also because of how damn earnest he is about everything. It's a testament to Ron Ron that he can fall back on the force of his spoken and implicit convictions, no matter how ever-shifting and contradictory they may be. Artest will always have, for lack of a better word, his realness. Not his authenticity—he's not the only athlete from the projects who's seen shit—but the ability to make us watch not out of horror or honor, but from a place of love.
Like it or not, there is something admirable about Artest. Otherwise, he'd be a garden-variety sociopath. He's no longer a symbol of instability or risk, but of the enduring quality that could redeem such a blood-blender of a career: the fact that, at the time, he sure did mean it.
You might also say he's the opposite of Kobe Bryant, who by the least charitable reading, is the form of conviction without any of its substance. That would of course be totally wrong and unfair (though I expect to hear it echoed in the comments section), and yet it gets at something of Kobe's, well, dullness. Artest is complicated in the literal sense, of things fucking each other up and getting in each other's way. Kobe's complicated like a watch or schematic, and it's only us on the outside who don't see the internal logic. Ron Artest is inconvenienced by logic, Kobe redeemed by it. That's partly why you never hear "why doesn't Ron Artest win a championship?" It just doesn't seem right to bring him into the world of criteria. He has one of those careers that, when it's over, we'll all know whether it left a mark or not.
That's why it's so perfectly glib, and hilarious, that he's being attached to a team looking for a second championship. I caught some criticism for suggesting that, even if the Shaq-jection was successful, LeBron would only have one ring. I know that city and franchise can't like that, and noted as much, but James needs to be thinking dynasty. It's in his nature, the scope of what he does in the sport. Kobe, on the other hand, needed that single Shaq-less ring. Right, there's the three-peat, and the dynasty he got to help author. This last one, though, was all about the technicality. Ironic as all get-out, then, that this kind of thinking barely enters Artest's mind, or those who would judge him. Sometimes you wonder if he even thinks in terms of seasons, or even final scores. Each nanosecond is a war.
Ron Artest doesn't need a ring. Kobe doesn't anymore, either. There's zero pathos or desperation to this, not even with Lamar Odom presumably back on board (more on that in a second). I'm not saying the Lakers won't have desire, just that there won't be pressure beyond the pressure to play basketball. LA is great at disappearing; I think that having no weight on their shoulders will make for less, not more, of that. Artest, paradoxical as this may sound, will also only heighten this new outlook.
To close out this journey to the heavens and back again, the reason I am bouncing off the walls tonight is because of the Artest/Odom reunion. I know people have a problem with Knicks exceptionalism, and maybe even New York exceptionalism. But fuck it: I am sick of Mark Jackson having a monopoly on the New York Basketball brand. How long has it been since we heard any other announcer describe a player as NY, except in passing? Do not so quickly forget what our Attorney General said at his Senate confirmation hearings! Not bullshit street ball, these two; they're the stuff lore is made of. Artest is all grit and aggression, Odom beauty and otherworldliness. Sometimes I don't know who between them has more anguish in their game; they probably share a sack. However, as much as it will sicken some to hear this, seeing the two of them on one team is, in a sense, a triumph for whatever it is that city means to the sport.
It may be Los Angeles hanging a banner in a year, but if you want to talk style and stories, you couldn't make a team more New York if you wanted to. Just from these two.