The Sacramento Kings' Ron Artest backtracked Monday from his comments to teammates about retiring at season's end, telling ESPN's Stephen A. Smith in a radio interview that he has no immediate plans to leave the game.
Appearing via phone on Smith's show on ESPN Radio 1050 in New York, Artest insisted: "I'm not retiring."
Citing club sources, ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported Saturday that Artest told multiple teammates he wanted to retire at season's end.
Artest told Smith during Monday's interview that he shared his retirement thoughts with selected teammates because he missed his kids, but never expected his intentions to create a media storm so quickly. Artest has been indefinitely restricted to telephone and e-mail contact with his three children after a March 5 domestic dispute with wife Kimsha that resulted in Artest's arrest.
After news of Artest's retirement musings spread Sunday, Kings forward Corliss Williamson told The Sacramento Bee that Artest sent text messages to several teammates about retiring when this season is over. The possibility of the eight-year veteran walking away from the Kings after the season to focus on family life was also raised over the weekend at hiphopgame.com, where Artest has been posting journal entries this season.
In a message e-mailed Monday night to ESPN.com, Artest said: "All these statements about retirement and going overseas were made because I am weakened by not being around my family. When I am not playing basketball, it's hard not having them around me.
"I thank my teammates, coaches, [the] Kings' organization and the NBA and Sacramento King fans for being supportive at a time when it's needed most. I love Sacramento and [I'm] looking forward to the playoffs."
In Monday's radio interview, Artest elaborated by saying: "I don't plan to retire. [But] when you don't have your kids around, you can get a little bit vulnerable, a little weak."
This is hardly the first time an early retirement story has surfaced with Artest. Before and after his 73-game suspension with Indiana during the 2004-05 season, Artest suggested numerous times publicly that he could be content without the NBA in his life.
Few league observers believed him then and similar skepticism -- inside and outside the Kings' organization -- greeted his latest sentiments, even though Artest clearly has much to consider off the floor.
Artest pleaded not guilty on Thursday to four misdemeanor charges stemming from this month's domestic dispute, which follows a January incident in which Placer County officials seized a dog from his home. The Bee reported Sunday night on its Web site that Artest would be in New York on Monday to meet with league officials regarding the misdemeanor charges against him.
The Bee also reported that Artest met with Kings president Geoff Petrie after Sunday's home victory over Phoenix to discuss the retirement talk.
"He's under a lot of scrutiny and at a point, really, in his own career where he needs to be a better keeper of his own soul in some ways," Petrie told the newspaper. "We'll assess in the context of the whole season where we go [with Artest from here]. But again, it's sort of Ron being Ron."
The 27-year-old has two seasons left on his contract after this one, both at a salary of $7.4 million. Artest has the option to terminate the contract after next season and enter the free-agent market in July 2008.
Information from ESPN.com's Marc Stein was used in this report.