Well, Lakers Nation, we survived a long summer of anticipation. If you’re anything like me, you can probably remember a simpler time when there was nothing more exciting than the lazy days of summer.
When I was about 15-years-old, summer meant getting to live every waking moment like a drive engineered by JaMarcus Russell. It didn’t matter if my day was productive, as long as I didn’t have to go to school in the morning. The notion of being responsible simply meant not dying, or getting someone else killed. During those precious summer months, all of my good eating habits disappeared faster than the Celtics title defense last season. For three solid months of the year, I was essentially Khloe Kardashian.
As you get older, the magical allure of summer fades away. It’s basically everyday life, except you don’t get to watch your favorite TV shows and the start of the NBA seasons seems farther away than the completion of whatever diet plan you’re on. By early September, you have actually developed somewhat of a life. I mean, how disturbing is that?
In just sixteen days, the world champion Lakers will officially kick off their title defense. Before we completely close the book on the summer and get whisked away by the excitement of the upcoming season, let’s revisit the biggest news of the Lakers off-season: The addition of Ron Artest.
The media, especially a certain entertainment sports network, have crucified Ron Artest’s addition to the Lakers. If you didn’t know any better, you would think the Lakers just signed Lindsay Lohan to an incentive based contract and asked her to restructure the teams’ substance abuse policy. Even Laker fans (myself briefly included) have often alluded to The Malice at the Palace, his years up in Sacramento with the Queens and his poor judgment last season in going after Kobe Bryant during the playoffs.
There’s no question that Ron Artest has earned at-least a percentage of the criticism he attracts. But for a man up to his neck in questions about his ability to co-exist and fit in with this veteran Lakers’ team, he sure has done just that with the city of Los Angeles and their fans.
To fully understand what Ron has accomplished, it’s important to note that the Lakers are arguably the most closed-door, behind the scenes franchise in the NBA. They have the largest celebrity clientele in all of sports, and it’s shamelessly put on display with court side seats starting at $2,600/ticket. When it comes to matters off the court, they have done more to alienate their fan base than maybe any other sports franchise.
In walks heavily criticized Ron Artest, and in just three summer months, he has connected more with the fans than most athletes do in their entire careers. For those of you not paying attention, Ron has given away hundreds of tickets, and several times, has shown up to various events to meet and hang out with the fans that so faithfully, and financially, support him. Using his three Twitter accounts, he has personally interacted with thousands of followers, held random prize giveaways and extended open invitations to join him for breakfast, bowling or the beach. Before playing in a single basketball game, Ron has already won over many of his critics.
On the court, we’re most excited about his defensive prowess. Let’s be honest, Kobe Bryant isn’t getting any younger, and at some point in the next couple of years, we might actually see some noticeable signs of mileage. If Ron does nothing more than help protect Kobe’s legs, he will have earned every bit of that MLE he signed. Even in doing so, we can’t overlook his ability to score in bursts and knock down the open three. Just by coming to Los Angeles under the financial circumstances he did, we can trust in his insatiable drive to win an NBA championship, and how that fresh energy will help re-ignite his new teammates. No matter how you spin it, there is no way to deny that Ron Artest is a positive addition to the Lakers and the city of Los Angeles.
Will he stir up some post-game controversy with something he said on Twitter? Maybe. Will he pick up some questionable T’s during the season? Probably. Will he connect to his teammates and coaching staff as well as he has to the fans this summer? I would certainly bet on it.
And when he does, watch out ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls. We’re coming for you.
Jason Riley is a columnist for the Lakers Nation. In addition to this column, he writes on an array of topics that you can check out by visiting J-Ri.com. You can email him by clicking here, look him up on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter for in-game coverage.
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