Artest admits drinking, blasts ref

Ron Artest, the often-controversial Los Angeles Lakers forward, told a magazine interviewer he used to drink alcohol at halftime of NBA games.

"I used to drink Hennessy ... at halftime," Artest said in an interview with the Sporting News, which is publishing the story in its Dec. 7 issue. "I [kept it] in my locker. I'd just walk to the liquor store and get it."

Hennessy is a French cognac.

Artest said he drank when he played for the Chicago Bulls, where he played for his first three seasons (1999-2002). He has since played for Indiana, Sacramento, Houston and the Lakers.

A Lakers spokesman said the team had looked into Artest's past before signing him, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

"We do a thorough background check and due diligence prior to signing any player, and while we won't share exactly what we did and didn't know about Ron, we obviously felt comfortable or we wouldn't have signed him," team spokesman John Black said, according to the report.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Wednesday: "We have no comment and we hope Ron has a successful season."

Bulls center Brad Miller, who played with Artest in Chicago and was traded with him to Indiana in February 2002, was asked if he thought Artest was telling the truth.

"Who knows with Ron," Miller said. "You never knew what he was doing at that point."

Artest was a member of the Pacers when he was involved in a fight in Detroit that spilled over into the stands. He was suspended for the rest of the 2004-05 season, which turned out to be 73 games. Artest told the Sporting News that the brawl "wasn't my fault. ... I don't see anything I could have done different."

In the article Artest said he's still ready to fight Detroit center Ben Wallace, the player who shoved him on the play that preceded the brawl with Pistons fans.

"He said he wanted to fight me? You all need to check and see if he's still drinking," Wallace said Wednesday night before Detroit's game in Chicago.

"He's just running his mouth. You all know who you're talking about. It's Ron Artest, just talking."

Artest told the Sporting News that he has tamed his admittedly wild lifestyle, but still likes to "party and I have fun."

"When I was a 19-year-old father, whew. I was a single pimp! I was wild," he told the magazine. "A lot of marijuana and alcohol -- even before [that age]. ... I [still] party and I have fun, but not like I used to. I used to drink every night and party every night."

He also criticized NBA referee Joey Crawford, who was on the floor for two games of the 2009 NBA Western Conference semifinals. In Game 2, Artest was ejected after an altercation with Kobe Bryant. In Game 7, Crawford also officiated, and the Lakers won 89-70 to close out the series.

"Joey Crawford basically said, 'Who cares about the Houston Rockets? Kobe Bryant is on the floor,'" Artest said, according to the Sporting News.

Artest is now in his first year with the Lakers. In the interview, Artest commented on accepting a role in Bryant's supporting cast.

"It's weird because people don't think about the whole basketball game," Artest said. "There's offense: Kobe averages 30 and is a great offensive player. Then you have defense. So 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."

A former teammate of Artest isn't buying all of his claims.

"Consider the source. Since when did he become a credible witness?" he said.

Information from ESPN.com columnist J.A. Adande and The Associated Press contributed to this report.