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Player of the Week: Ron Artest

Is there a more well known player in the league right now than Ron Artest?  Known as much for his infamy of the court as his performance on it, Ron Artest has forever carved out his place in the annals of NBA history for his central role in the most despicable and dangerous brawl the league has ever seen, which has earned him the most severe penalty ever administered in the NBA.  In recognition of his actions that have cast the NBA into the forefront of sports coverage, we have named Ron Artest the Player of the Week. 

We've all probably seen the footage, read the coverage, so there is no need for me to further chronicle the events of that night in detail.  In a nutshell, Artest had fouled the Detroit Piston's center, Ben Wallace, hard, in which Wallace took exception.  The benches had cleared but there was really no harmful activity…  until Artest, who was lying on the scorer's table as the drama died down, was hit with a cup of some sort of beverage.  That is when he went into the stands, grabbed who he thought was the perpetrator of the heinous crime, and then proceeded to deliver his punishment – a flurry of punches to the man's defensive posture.  On the way back to the dressing room, Artest was encountered by another fan who made his way to the court shouting obscenities at him, to which Artest had replied with some more punches. 

So there it is, and with that Commissioner David Stern suspended Artest from NBA play for the rest of the season – a whopping 72 games.  Although the shorthanded Pacers, who are also without key members, power forward Jermaine O'Neal (suspended 25 games) and shooting guard Stephen Jackson (suspended 30 games), the Pacers have enough talent, depth, and coaching structure, to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.  However, where they will seed in the playoffs remains a mystery. 

Always flamboyant and controversial, Ron Artest is arguably the Pacer's most important player.  Never modest, Artest mentioned that he was the Pacer's MVP this past summer, after making the all-star team for the first time and winning Defensive Player of the Year Award.  His statement may have ruffled the feathers of Jermaine O'Neal, who has traditionally been the Pacer's go-to guy and MVP.  Perhaps those words were said as a motivator, because Artest began the season on a tear. 

With O'Neal and Reggie Miller out due to injuries, Artest put the team on his shoulders leading the team to three straight victories.  True to his distracted and aloof nature, he sat out the next two games after being suspended by Coach Rick Carlise after he allegedly asked for a month off to pursue his rap career.  Artest then returned to combine with O'Neal, who had also returned, to form a devastating 1-2 combination.  Up to his suspension, the Indiana Pacers had 7 wins and 2 losses, and were leading the Central Division.  Artest has laid down his evidence as the team's most important player this season, averaging 41.6 minutes, 24.6 points, and 6.4 rebounds per game.  He was shooting 49.6% from the field, including 41.2% from three-point range.           

While Artest's offensive game was blossoming, his most valuable attribute is his defense.  As the most feared perimeter defender in the league, Artest had gained a league-wide reputation for his ability to shut down the opposing team's best scorer.  He has taken prolific scorers like Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Alan Iverson, and Paul Pierce out of the game – which has enabled the Pacer's a greater chance of winning the game.  

While true basketball enthusiasts have always appreciated Artest's unique game, he will most likely be remembered for all his acts of the court.  As basketball gifted as he is, he is also just as crazy…  I mean "volatile".  Entering the league after his sophomore season with St. John's University, he was selected 16th overall by the Chicago Bulls.  Always strong and defense-oriented, Artest had solid seasons but was not the controversial headcase that he is today.   Sometime, somewhere in his third season, Artest was starting to come into his own.  He had become the Bull's best player in their most embarrassing season where they won only 21 games.  It was also during the season where he developed a 'Rodmanesque' attitude.  Despite the fact that Artest was improving as an offensive player, and had established himself as one of the most physical defenders in the game, the Bull's felt that his personality made him expendable – and of he went in a late season deal to the Indiana Pacers.   

In Indiana, Artest grew both as a player and a thug.  He led the league that year in disqualifications and flagrant fouls, although his physical nature intimidated the opponents he would guard.  Last season, it seemed that Artest was starting to mature.  His behavior was improving thanks to some coddling from Pacer President Larry Bird, coach Rick Carlise, and teammates.  His technical and flagrant fouls, dqs, and flagrant fouls were down.  This past summer, even Commissioner Stern was profiting from Artest's supposed former bad boy image, as he was featured in a number of commercials promoting the NBA. 

But alas, the feel good reformed Artest story was not to last with the events of last Friday night.  Artest has publicly apologized for the whole incident, and had regretted his actions.  Whether he will play again this season remains in question.  The NBA Players Association has appealed the decision.