Ron Artest was running about an hour late, something about being at the passport office and getting a visa for a trip to China and getting stuck in traffic and, you know, typical Ron stuff.
He was supposed to speak to a group of students at Jordan High School in Long Beach on behalf of the Stephanie Starks HOPE Foundation and encourage them to improve their grades, stay in school and go to college. The kids, however, sat and waited for no one in particular (he was a surprise guest) for nearly an hour before Artest finally came running through the gates and was welcomed by a standing ovation.
“Is this a real school or summer school because I heard in Los Angeles, California they go to school all year round,” he said as he grabbed the microphone before being corrected by a couple student in the first row. “They don’t. Why would somebody tell me that?”
As Artest stood in front of the students seated around him, he began pacing back and forth and reciting his checkered history in the class room.
“My freshman year of high school I had a 65 average, so I was failing so they sat me 13 games,” he said. “In order to play basketball I had to pick up my grades so every year I picked up my average by 10 points. My senior year I had a 95 average and I went to St. Johns but I still didn’t do that well on the SAT. I took it twice, I got 820 the first time and the second time I got an 860. That was only because I was good at math. Reading was bad for me.”
Artest said he wanted to be an architect or a junior high math teacher when he was growing up and tried his hand in both when he went to St. Johns.
“My major in college was math,” he said. “It started as architecture but then I changed it to math because I had to do too many projects in architecture and it was too hard to wake up 6am and do architecture and then go to practice so I majored in math.”
While the majority of the kids he spoke to were in summer school because they failed at least one class, Artest told them they had no excuse not to improve their grades and do better. After all, he was able to do it even though he was helping raise a child.
“I had my first baby when I was 16 going on 17 but I’m not encouraging that, it’s extremely hard,” he said. “I used to have to go outside in New York City at 2 in the morning, someone would want to play me in basketball and I had to play games for $200, $500, going out and hustling just to buy Pampers.”
Afterwards, when I caught up with Artest he seemed unimpressed with the new-look Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. “I don’t really have an opinion on that. I’m more worried about what we’re going to do this season and how we’re going to play,” he said. “What happened over there isn’t much different than what happened in Boston and what happened in LA. It’s the media’s job to create the stories.”
He was, however, impressed the Lakers were able to sign Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff in the off-season to a championship roster mostly intact from last season. “That was interesting because I don’t know what better players you can get,” he said. “I think the Lakers are great and they’re a team that everyone wants to play for; I know that’s how I felt last year.”
Despite what the Heat and other teams have done this off-season Artest simply smiled when asked about the Lakers’ chances at winning the title again next year.
“I don’t want to talk about that three-peat next year,” he said. “That’s easy.”