L.A. Lakers Sign Ron Artest
He said the jersey felt like smooth silk although it looked much like the others worn by the Lakers. Purple lettering on gold background, size XXXL.
"It's a smooth material. Really smooth," he said.
Yet, the bigger issue is how Ron Artest will fit in, not only on the Lakers and alongside Kobe Bryant, but in Los Angeles , where his every word and action will be scrutinized by the media and fans.
"I've been through so much, I don't worry about it (bad press)," Artest said. "I feel fine with whatever you want to write."
So if his introductory press conference was any indication, Artest will have no problems fashioning a role for himself on one of the NBA's biggest stages. He said all the right things and, more importantly, promised to behave and produce nothing but good press.
"I always wanted to be a Laker," Artest said. "Not coming out of college; I wanted to be a Knick. As I started to compete against the Lakers and against Kobe , really just out of respect for him, I wanted to be a teammate of his."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak knew of Artest's desire to wear purple and gold for years and finally made his dream reality when he contacted his agent, David Bauman, on July 1, the first day teams were able to contact free agents.
When Artest's agent told him Kupchak had called, "I said 'For what?' He said 'He wants to help you get a ring.'
"I was just totally shocked and surprised."
Artest agreed to play for the Lakers last week and on Tuesday night, he signed a five-year guaranteed contract worth $33.95 million. Last season, he earned $7.4 million, but accepted less from the Lakers for the chance to win a ring.
"As you can see, once again, I'm probably underpaid," Artest said, jokingly. "But that's OK. At the end of the day, if you can't live on $33 million, then you can't live."
Artest was engaging, honest, funny and certainly not afraid to speak his mind during Wednesday's lengthy session at the Lakers' training facility. He called himself a "bad teammate" when he was with the Indiana Pacers, where he was the focus of a brawl that cost him 73 games of the 2003 season.
He insists he is a changed player.
"That year off allowed me to reflect on what was important," Artest said.
He said his volatile past is behind him, the proof in his behavior this past season. Artest averaged 17.1 points and 5.2 rebounds for Houston , which lost to the Lakers in an emotional seven-game Western Conference semifinal series.
"I was real focused last season," he said. "Sure it was a contract year, but it wasn't about that. I was totally focused on winning."
Artest said he doesn't mind also taking a lesser role than he is used to playing, second or even third behind Bryant and Pau Gasol. He doesn't expect any problems adjusting after having played with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady last season in Houston .
"Of course I'm going to follow him (Bryant). That's a no-brainer and I didn't even finish school," Artest said.
After announcing he was going to play for the Lakers, Artest called Bryant. Neither player was surprised.
"We've had this conversation before, about trying to team up, so it was nothing new," Artest said. "It's been ongoing. It was kind of a no-brainer for me to be a Laker. You throw in (Lakers coach) Phil Jackson in the mix, who would pass on an opportunity to play under Phil?"
Artest said he would love to play with childhood friend Lamar Odom, a free agent who has yet to come to terms with the Lakers. Kupchak said he doesn't see negotiations being drawn out between the Lakers and Odom and expects to have an answer within the next few days.
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