SAN DIEGO -- Pardon Ron Artest if he's a bit geographically challenged and had no idea that San Diego has a big league baseball team, even though he was wearing a Padres cap.
This much he's sure of -- if his Los Angeles Lakers don't repeat as NBA champions, fans can point their fingers at him.
"They should. That's exactly what should happen if we don't repeat," the star forward said during a visit to promote the Lakers' exhibition game against the Denver Nuggets at the San Diego Sports Arena on Oct. 23.
"They won last year, and I'm the new addition. The fans expect to repeat. Everybody in L.A. expects a second ring. And if we don't then yeah, they should point it right at me, throwing tomatoes and everything."
Artest joined the Lakers as a free agent on July 8, signing a five-year deal worth about $33 million. He is the team's only addition, essentially switching places with Trevor Ariza, who left the Lakers to take Artest's spot with the Rockets.
Artest said he was proud to be making his first promotional appearance for the Lakers. He wore an all-black Kobe Bryant jersey as a tribute to his new teammate.
"It makes me more excited, gives me a better understanding of what jersey I'm actually putting on," Artest said. "So today I decided to wear the black Kobe Bryant jersey, because he is the 'Black Mamba,' and I'm really happy to be a part of this team and I'm really excited just to be an addition, an asset, to the guy, to the [Derek] Fishers and the [Andrew] Bynums and all the rest of the players."
During a wide-ranging news conference at the San Diego Chargers' media trailer, Artest drew some laughs with a few slip-ups.
"I didn't realize how far L.A.'s tentacles, or whatever you want to call them, extend, all the way to San Diego. I thought I was going to be getting some Golden State Warrior fans, because I didn't know where I was at. Most of the fans are Lakers fans, so that's great.
"And I'm also here to say that next year I'll be trying out for the San Diego Chargers, so I look forward to that. Hopefully I can play some baseball. Is there a baseball team here?"
You're wearing the hat, he was told.
"I know I'm wearing the hat. I just love the SD. The logo looks great. I didn't realize there was a baseball team in San Diego."
A tough, physical defender, Artest had some spirited moments against Bryant when the Rockets pushed the Lakers to seven games in the second round of the playoffs.
"That was friendship what you saw out there with me and Kobe," Artest said. "That's like hard-core friendship, you know, like back in the days -- fight against your best friend when you were younger and go out and get some ice cream later? That's what that was. It was just so competitive.
"I just knew that my team was going to win. Of course we lost Yao [Ming], which hurt the Rockets. And Kobe wanted to win, and he knew his team was going to win. It was like, 'OK, I know you but I don't care nothing about you, maybe I have to step on your toes and give you a couple of elbows and get you ejected twice, whatever it takes to win, that's what I'm going to do.'"
Artest was ejected from Games 2 and 3 against the Lakers. In Game 2, he received a technical and was ejected after pointing and making a gesture near his throat after complaining that Bryant had elbowed him in the throat under the basket.
Artest was ejected from Game 3 after a flagrant foul on Pau Gasol.
It's all good now that they're all teammates.
"That's what I love about Kobe. He's so tough," Artest said. "He was great when he was younger, but he's much more competitive now. I didn't envision myself playing with him. I always wanted to play against him. I always wanted to beat Kobe Bryant. But I'm more than happy to be playing with Kobe."
A native New Yorker, Artest said he's turning into a West Coast kind of guy.
"I'm learning a lot of different ways of California. Is this Southern California?" he said, apparently not realizing San Diego is as southern as it gets. "It never rains in Southern California, huh? I'm turning into a Southern California guy. I'm happy to be a Southern Californian, or whatever you want to call it."
The Lakers open training camp Sept. 29 at their headquarters in El Segundo.