NEW YORK -- Ron Artest Sr. was in church when it happened. After services Friday night, he rushed home to his apartment to catch the highlights of his son's game. "I was shocked," he says. "I've never seen anything like that before."
Artest Sr. has seen his oldest son lose his temper before. It's a problem he has tried for 20 years to help fix. But suddenly, there on the TV screen, his son was in the stands in Detroit, throwing punches at fans.
Sunday morning, Ron Artest called his dad. "Ron's OK," says Artest Sr., who raised his son in the Queensbridge projects with Ron's mother, Sarah. "He's sorry for what happened. It was a reaction. He wishes he could reverse it. He tried to compose himself, and it didn't work out.
"He felt he was being attacked. Like it was 12 guys against 20,000 guys in the arena."
Ron Sr. is a Navy vet and a former Golden Gloves boxer out of Philadelphia. He taught his son to box in the hope that sports might keep him out of trouble. Ron Sr. has always feared that his son's temper would be his downfall. He hoped boxing could help him avoid the drugs and violence around every corner in Queensbridge. Ron Sr. sent his son to anger management therapy when he was 8 after Ron put his hands around another boy's throat in a school cafeteria. The counselor suggested basketball as an outlet for Ron's emotions.
"Maybe it's because of the neighborhood," Ron Sr. says. "Some people have [a temper], and some people don't. He's never hurt anybody, never killed anybody. It's just part of him. He doesn't have a criminal or thug bone in his body."
Artest has struggled with his temper all his life. Events such as his parents' divorce in 1992 and the death of his baby sister Quanisha from SIDS in 1995 only made it worse. Ron even saw his dad hit his mother once. He offered to lie to the cops, but Ron Sr. told him never to lie.
So Artest took his emotions out on the basketball court, molding himself into one of the most physical players ever to come out of New York. He became a hero in Queens, willing St. John's to the Elite Eight as a sophomore. He turned pro at 19, but gave most of his money to friends and family until he was nearly broke.
"He feels bad for the kids," Ron Sr. says. "He's worried how the kids will look at him now. The kids love him out there."
Ron Sr. says he has not spoken with his son since NBA commissioner David Stern handed down Artest's yearlong suspension. But he believes the penalty is too harsh.
"I know he wants to apologize," Ron Sr. says. "He wants to apologize to innocent spectators. I would like to apologize, too, for Ron to those spectators and to the Detroit Pistons."
Eric Adelson is a senior writer for ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.