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Artest's past dominating his present

At least now we know why Ron Artest would reveal that he drank alcohol before playing in games for the Chicago Bulls about a decade ago. He did it for the kids.

"The whole point of the testimony was to share the problematic times in my life with the youth," Artest said Thursday. "I have a program coming up pretty soon that I'm going to go visit schools and share situations that I've gone through."

An Artest publicist said his youth program is still a couple of months from launching, so if there's one thing Artest has to learn about bombshell announcements, it is timing. It's not too soon for the rest of us to learn from this Artest episode, though. What we've seen once again is that you never truly escape your own history. (A prospect that's even more chilling with the revelation that Google keeps records of your Web search and browsing history.)

In Artest's case, we tend to let past dominate the present. Through 17 games, it's been so far, so good for him in Lakerland. Phil Jackson called Artest "an exceptional teammate." Kobe Bryant gave him a grade of A-plus. Artest isn't even among the top two Lakers in technical fouls -- with two, he's behind Kobe Bryant (five) and Andrew Bynum (three). Yet the jury remains in deliberation, certain that Artest will unravel at some point and cause the destruction of the Lakers' championship dream.

If there's one team capable of absorbing an Artest incident and calmly going about business, it's the Lakers. Jackson and Bryant have been through so much that anything short of an FBI raid won't rattle them. In this case, they're also products of their history, hardened and controversy-resistant. They've been living the reality show life for so long that they treated the Artest story like a weak layup instead of an in-your-face dunk. Artest didn't say anything crazy that involved his time with the Lakers, although it seemed a little unfair that they would have to deal with the fallout.

"What fallout?" Bryant said. "He ain't doing that [stuff] here. It's got nothing to do with us."

So they gave it the Jay-Z brush-off, to the point that Bryant simply laughed and shook his head when I asked him whether he could imagine playing against a drunk Artest.

The Lakers were off when the Artest story made its way through the NBA on Wednesday, and Jackson didn't find it necessary to address it when he met with the team before practice on Thursday.

"We had to talk about, you know, basketball," Jackson said.

That's rarely Topic A when it comes to Artest. He elicits a selective memory. People don't focus on the facts that the Sacramento Kings' best postseason showing in the past five years came when Artest was there or that the Houston Rockets' first playoff series victory since 1997 came when Artest was there. He might bring drama, but he brings W's, as well. Oh, and he adds defense.

In a less sensational but still eye-raising part of his interview with The Sporting News, Artest went as far as to say, "On defense, now I have my supporting cast … I'm one of the best defenders to ever play basketball, so I'm still the first option on defense."

Bryant, seven-time member of the NBA's All-Defensive team, relegated to the supporting cast on his own squad? He said he's fine with it.

"That's something that we've talked about, actually, is divvying up that responsibility, taking some things off of my plate," Bryant said. "I've had to be offensive captain, defensive captain, all that stuff … compass. One of the things I told him is that I want somebody that can take over a little bit of those responsibilities defensively and communicate with guys on the floor, so I'm not having to do all of that stuff."

This season, Bryant won't be asked to spend much -- if any -- time guarding LeBron James and Paul Pierce, as he has in the past. His agenda seems to be all about saving his legs, whether it's by launching fewer 3-pointers or taking off on fewer drives to the hoop. If Artest can keep Bryant from chasing or banging with other stars, he'll take a deferring role. It's working; with Artest and Bryant on the perimeter and Pau Gasol and Bynum clogging the lane the Lakers' defensive rating on basketball-reference.com is the lowest (best) it's been since the 1999-2000 season.

If having Artest also means having to deal with a larger gathering of reporters than usual at practice from time to time, the Lakers can live with that. There are those who believe that Artest made the admission on himself simply to get attention, an allegation he denied. It's still curious why Artest would give unsolicited stories of in-game drinking or Andre Agassi would confess to using crystal meth in his autobiography when there already are enough tabloid reporters and bloggers willing to scrounge for dirt without any invitations.

Just ask Tiger Woods. Or if Tiger's not available, try Bryant. All you needed to know about history's inescapable gravitational pull came when a reporter began to ask Bryant a question about a dinner he once had with Woods, a question headed to an inevitable link to the biggest scandal in sports right now. Bryant cut him off before he even finished, saying, "Man, get off of that, man."

It was a natural pairing, given that Bryant has been able to rebound from a public admission to an extramarital sexual encounter, with the added onus of a rape charge that came with it, and return to the good graces of fans and sponsors. He has a signature shoe with Nike, is on the cover of the "NBA2K10" video game and even got in a plug for another sponsor when asked Thursday whether he ever drank before a game.

"Yes," Bryant said, pausing for dramatic effect, "Vitaminwater."

Bryant can laugh now, some five years past a personal and career crisis, the criminal case dropped, the civil suit settled, his championship credentials restored. But that Colorado incident will always be part of the narrative, even if used as an example of his resilience.

We get choices on what to do next. The past can never be changed.

Artest might have some more accounting to do for his Sporting News interview if the NBA finds it worthy to fine him for his comments about Joey Crawford's officiating in the Western Conference semifinals. Artest was contrite Thursday, saying, "Joey's a good person. That question was asked a while ago, in the summertime, and I just felt bad for the Houston Rockets fans."

Words from the offseason, referencing last season, coming on the heel of his jaw-dropping statements about his early days in the league at the start of the decade. History keeps working its way to the present -- something for the Lakers to keep a watchful eye on in the days still to come.

J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.