Ron Artest wins citizenship award

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers forwards Lamar Odom and Ron Artest were friends growing up in Queens, N.Y., as children and both are now recipients of two of the NBA's coveted annual awards.

Artest was named the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner on Tuesday, exactly one week after Odom was named the league's Sixth Man of the Year Award winner.

"I think it's great recognition that the NBA sees what I've been doing outside of basketball," Artest said after Lakers shootaround Tuesday in preparation of Game 5 of their first-round series with the New Orleans Hornets. "I'm definitely grateful for the award.

"It's something that's not on people's minds as far as me getting a citizenship award, but it was something that I wanted and I'm definitely happy I got it."

The citizenship award is presented annually by the Professional Basketball Writers Association and is named for the second commissioner of the league. It honors an NBA player or coach for outstanding service and dedication to the community.

"I feel like I've been doing a lot of work over the years, a lot of charity work, just giving back to the communities," Artest said. "This award ranks up there with Defensive Player of the Year, to me, as one of the most important individual awards I've ever gotten."

Artest was named the league's top defender following the 2003-04 season, about six months before the event that would go on to shape the rest of his career.

The award represents a remarkable turnaround for Artest since Nov. 2004 when he received the longest suspension in NBA history stemming from his involvement at the brawl at the Palace at Auburn Hills between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers that spilled into the stands.

"I don't have a comment on that," Artest said when asked about the change in his reputation since the Pistons-Pacers fight.

However, Artest did say he wouldn't have believed it had someone told him he'd win the award a few years ago.

"I don't think it would have happened a couple years ago. But it was something I always wanted, kind of under the covers, people not knowing the whole Ron Artest, but just a part," Artest said. "But you've got to have good timing. You have to be in the right place at the right time. Things have to happen, and it worked out perfectly for me at this point where I'm at in my career right now."

Artest is being recognized for his work in raising awareness for mental health issues which included him raffling off his 2010 championship ring to amass more than $650,000 that was distributed to various mental health charities.

"That was the greatest thing I've ever done in my life outside of being married and having my kids," Artest said. "That was the biggest thing I've ever done, just getting that message out there. I see a big difference. I even see a couple more celebrities coming forward and speaking on issues they have and not being afraid. It's good."

Artest is also a member of the Mental Health in Schools Act Task Force, working with Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (Calif.) to generate government support for the cause.

Artest has put particular focus into working with youth.

"It's important because a lot of kids right here at home in America are not doing well," Artest said. "I want to see those kids have an opportunity to succeed. Whether they're on drugs or abused or lack confidence or are being bullied, cyber bullying or family issues and environment and a lot of things going on ... We try to help out and bring awareness."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson was impressed with Artest's dedication to his causes.

"It's deserving," said Jackson. "He goes out to visit schools and kids and registers the importance of using counseling to its best advantage in troubling times for kids in their developmental years that they certainly have resources that they can use and he encourages that. I think that's very important."

The award was voted on by the approximate 150 writers in the PBWA and was presented to Artest on Tuesday night prior to Game 5.

Members nominate players and coaches and vote for the award. The finalists for the award this season were Artest, Marcus Camby of the Portland Trail Blazers, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic and Kyle Korver of the Chicago Bulls.

The J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award has been handed out annually since the 1974-75 NBA season and is named after Kennedy, the league's commissioner from 1963-75. Sacramento Kings center Samuel Dalembert received the award last season to recognize his efforts to provide relief to victims of the devastating earthquake in his native Haiti.

Artest joins Magic Johnson (1992) and Michael Cooper (1986) as the only Lakers to win the award.

"You're just giving people the opportunity to have opportunity, that's it," Artest said when asked to sum up the message behind his charitable work. "If they're not mentally stable, you never know where some people are going to end up. You never know what potential they would have had in their life -- what potential that could have been reached, what goals that could have been reached. So, you want to just help give opportunity to people that deserve an opportunity."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Brian Kamenetzky was used in this report.