x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

All in the mind for the Lakers star Artest

The once controversial forward remembers how important mental-health counselling was for him when he was a teenager and plans to give back by way of charity.

Ron Artest, of the Los Angeles Lakers, has big goals.
Ron Artest, of the Los Angeles Lakers, has big goals.

SAN DIEGO // Ron Artest remembers how important mental-health counselling was for him when he was a teenager. To help ensure today's students have the same opportunity, the star forward is willing to give up his hard-won first NBA championship ring. Artest, an often erratic and controversial figure, earned his first ring with the Los Angeles Lakers when they defeated the Boston Celtics in the finals in June.

But he said he is willing to auction off the ring and donate the proceeds to help fund mental-health counselling in schools. "When I grew up, mental health was something that wasn't talked about," he said. "People were scared to say they were seeing a psychologist and stuff like that." Artest showed no such concerns, after the clinching Game 7 victory. During a televised interview, he thanked his psychiatrist for helping him relax during the play-offs.

Suddenly, a player perhaps best known for a 73-game suspension for charging into the stands to fight with fans during a game in Detroit in 2004, was transformed into an unofficial NBA spokesman for mental health issues. He has aided a campaign to pass the Mental Health in Schools Act. "Even before the championship I was telling people I was seeing a psychiatrist," he said. "When we won the championship, it was on a much more larger scale. 'Wow, he really said that'."

Artest has spoken to children at schools, telling them that seeking out someone to talk to about their problems should not make them feel ashamed. He said he could display his ring in his living room or he could wear it. "But I think it'll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it's so expensive," he said. "This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor - preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists - but it'll be a great way to help kids who don't know where they're going in their life at this point."

He said celebrities and investors have offered him between US$50,000 (Dh183,000) and $100,000 for the ring. But he wants to have a raffle auction so that all fans will have a chance to end up with it, with tickets likely going for between $1 and $3. "The fans are going to totally smash that [$100,000] number," he said. "We're going to help as much as that ring can do." When he gives away his ring, he said, he will be further motivated to help the Lakers win another championship so that he can win his first ring. Again.

"We're hungry. I know I am. And you know Kobe [Bryant] is. Kobe's after something, I don't even know what it is. I think he's after stardom on Pluto or something," Artest said. "Pluto's not even a planet no more, which I'm very disturbed about. I grew up when Pluto was a planet. Now, I'm 25, I turn around and Pluto's no longer a planet. I'm going to elbow that guy in the nose. I love Pluto. Everybody loves Pluto. ? We've got to see if we can get Pluto back."

* Associated Press