Welcome back, Ron Artest.
It's been quite the love-hate relationship between Sacramento and Ron-Ron. He came in as a hero, saving Rick Adelman's last team from lottery humiliation and giving us fans a thrilling turn to dethrone the San Antonio Spurs. It didn't work out in full that spring, and despite the departures of Adelman and Bonzi Wells, hopes were mildly high for Ron's first full campaign. And that was sort-of a disaster; we've blamed it on Eric Musselman, Mike Bibby, Brad Miller and Ron himself. They all deserve the blame (though the blame isn't necessarily a wagged finger; Miller can't help the injuries). Ron's game and off-court issues were equally infuriating. On the court, Artest's poor decisions (Shareef with a three to win the game!) and insufferable ball-hogging (Kevin Martin's usage was below 20 -- role-player territory -- much of the season) drew jeers constantly, even though Ron put up numbers any team'd be thrilled with.
And that's the thing with Ron-Ron -- when he's on, there is no player in the league more fun to watch. I had a conversation with Lady Ziller last week before the Cleveland game. Lady Z is definitely a fan of animals -- she's rescued probably a dozen stray and pound kitties in her young life, does all the SPCA donation stuff, still loses composure when there's roadkill on the street. And I'm pretty sure she's against beating your wife. She has every right to despite Ron Artest (and maybe she does). But you know what she asked when I mentioned the Kings game'd be on in a few minutes and asked if she wanted to watch it?
"Is Ron back yet?"
"No, not until next week."
"Really? You'd watch if Ron was playing?"
"Yeah, I like watching Kevin, too. But it's only really fun when Ron's out there. It just seems like something's always about to happen when he plays."
"Like a trainwreck ready to happen?"
Needless to say, this stunned me a bit. Lady Z isn't the biggest sports fan; actually, I'm not sure she's watched an NFL or MLB game in her life, save a few Super Bowls and maybe some background-music Giants games. She'd call herself a fan of basketball if pressed, especially live basketball, and she's got a good grip on the flow of a game. But as she's such a casual observer, I never in a million years figured she not only had an opinion on the playing styles of various Kings, but actually appreciated the game of someone whose persona is so detestable. That's how easy it is to root for Ron-Ron The Player, despite all our righteous (and rightful) qualms about Ron-Ron The Human.
And I think I may have cracked Ron-Ron The Player. He's all eight Robot Masters from Mega Man 2 combined. Metal Man -- the dude who knocked Luke Ridnour out of the starting lineup with a preseason shoulder to the nose. Air Man -- the guy whose frequent flights off the dribble are only more probable than a future Nobel Prize for either Stephon Marbury or Isiah Thomas. Bubble Man -- the jokester cracking up with Kobe Bryant in a blowout rivalry or yanking down Paul Pierce's shorts. Quick Man and Flash Man -- streaking drives on both ends of the court and stunningly fast hands which make even Bruce Bowen jealous. Crash Man -- always bounding into, over, around, under teammates and opponents for loose balls or random, unimportant rebounds. Heat Man -- a dude who can light it up at moment's notice. (Ask the Knicks.) Wood Man -- stout and strong, able to lean on Tim Duncan better than any of the 7-footers wearing identical jerseys. Ron Artest is everything on the court, and he has no power button. He's always Ron.
And I guarantee you he'll be Ron tonight. The single overriding factor in the success of whomever was to be the next head coach of the Sacramento Kings was reaching Ron Artest. I think Reggie Theus -- perhaps by default, perhaps by way of Chuck Person or sushi -- is there. Ron-Ron will work himself to death for something he believes in. And this season may mean nothing -- the Kings aren't challenging for anything but mediocrity, Artest could be shipped out any given night. But if Ron believes in his teammates and what his coach is selling, it won't matter. And you know what? That's f*cking awesome.
So who cares? Let's make the world's stupidest stand and truly mean it.1 Go Kings.
1 "Plus Ones." Okkervil River. The Stage Names. 2007