Ron Artest is nothing if not creative about his public image. As a pro athlete, he has an especially unfiltered persona with his fans, communicating with them at will. He's also cognizant that as basketball-crazy as Los Angeles is, only a sliver of the fan base ever has a chance to attend Lakers games in person at Staples Center. "Ninety-eight percent of people in L.A. don't go see a Lakers game," Artest told ESPN News. Tickets are pricey and games are generally sold out. And playoff games? Forget about it.
That's why Artest purchased two seats to Game 1 of the Finals to give away to a couple of fans. Tickets distributed through contests are generally located in the upper bowl or in the corners, but the tickets Artest bought were courtside on the baseline and had a face value of $9,000 each -- though that wasn't disclosed by Power 106, the station through which Artest conducted the giveaway.
Jessica St. John and David Doudoumian were the lucky winners. We caught up with St. John this morning.
Kevin Arnovitz: When you won the tickets did you have any idea where in the building they were located? What was your expectation?
Jessica St. John: I didn't know what to expect. I figured as long as I was at the game, it doesn't matter where I'm sitting. But I never thought in a million years they'd be on the floor.
Arnovitz: Do you go to a lot of games?
St. John: I've been to a few, but I mostly watch on TV. It's really expensive to go to games, let alone the Finals. But I watch every game.
Arnovitz: When all the Ariza and Artest stuff was going down last summer, it seemed like Lakers fans were of two minds. Either it was a great idea to bring in Artest or it was crazy to replace a guy as dependable as Ariza had been with someone as volatile as Artest. Where did you come down on that question?
St. John: Ariza, I figured, if he doesn't want to stay, then he doesn't want to stay. Let him go. I was more than happy to get Ron Artest because I know he's an aggressive player. He's one of those players who, when he's out on the court, is so into it.
Arnovitz: So let's talk about the game. I remember the first time I sat close to the floor and what an entirely different experience it is. What was that like for you? Did you hear the players? Did you pick up details you don't see when you're watching the game on television?
St. John: I didn't hear as much as I wanted to because I was really wrapped up in the experience -- everyone around me and it was loud. But it was great to see the players' facial expressions, to see how focused and aggressive they were on the court. To see the sweat on their arms. It was crazy. They're so much bigger than you think -- and Nate Robinson is a lot shorter than I expected! And, man, Kobe and Fisher looked so intense and into it. So was Pau. When I caught their faces, it was like, "Wow." They were in it to win it and they did. Everything happens so fast and it's right in front of you.
Arnovitz: And what was it like to be surrounded by a zillion celebrities?
St. John: That was amazing. I got a picture with Bruce and Chris Jenner. I sat right down from Leo [DiCaprio] and got to see Charlize Theron -- she sat near us. Terrell Owens was standing right in front of me. It was very surreal. I was born and raised in the Valley, so you think it wouldn't faze me, but I was so nervous. My grandma even called me to tell me she saw me on the news. I'm really grateful.
Arnovitz: Were you able to touch base with Artest?
St. John: I actually had a purple Sharpee in my purse, so I wrote "Thank you, Ron, for the tickets!" He actually did see it and pointed to us and gave us a thumbs-up. And even at the end of the game, he looked around for us and gave us another thumbs-up. He's such a great aggressive player. He has so much confidence, especially after he made that game-winning shot. He's such a great addition to the team and I hope that he doesn't go anywhere.
Arnovitz: He has the reputation of being super-eccentric. Where are you now on that question?
St. John: Of course he's a little crazy, but who isn't?