Few NBA players have been as committed to charity over the past year than Ron Artest(notes). The former bad boy and current goofball, most recently seen bounding into the Miami Heat bench during Saturday's game, has devoted much of his time to raising money for mental health awareness, specifically to get more mental health workers in schools so kids can get help they might not otherwise be able to afford.
This weekend, Artest engaged in his biggest charitable act to date when he announced the winner of the raffle for the championship ring he won last season with the Lakers. As it turns out, Artest helped raise a hefty sum with this move. From the Associated Press:
Artest announced the winner of the charity raffle for his ring late Saturday night at a club across the street from Staples Center, where the Lakers were trounced by the Miami Heat 96-80 in the NBA's Christmas showcase.
The ring was won by Raymond Mikkael, a father of four from Hawthorne, Calif.
"It's a good feeling, because it got a lot of publicity, and that's cool," Artest said before taking on LeBron James. "I'm glad we can start over now and do some more work with charities."
Artest came up with the idea to give away his first NBA title ring after putting a spotlight on mental health by thanking his psychiatrist after Game 7 of the Lakers' triumph over Boston last June. While some laughed at another stunt by one of the NBA's biggest characters, Artest's candid declaration sparked an interest in normalizing mental health care, which snowballed into this unique charitable gift. [...]
Although he doesn't yet know the final figures, Artest's raffle has raised well over $500,000 for his Xcel University charity, which will work with high-risk youth on mental health issues. Artest said he already wrote his first $50,000 check from the proceeds to the charity.
This is classic Artest: In a moment when most athletes would talk about how great it feels to help people, Artest is talking about the additional importance of publicity for this cause. He never says exactly what you'd expect, but everything he says comes from the heart. He doesn't mess around.
Artest has already received a ton of praise for his work with mental health charities, but it's all been well-deserved. Like most medical problems, mental health issues are best dealt with when treated as early as possible. Artest sought help only recently and now wants those less fortunate than him to get the same kind of attention. It's extremely generous for him to use his celebrity this way, even if he's acted over the top at times. In this case, Ron-Ron's shamelessness is welcomed.
But his fame has other positive consequences beyond financial contributions. In the past, I suffered from depression and anxiety, and one of the toughest things about dealing with them was the feeling of shame associated with discussing them, or even having other people know that you're in regular therapy or taking medication. By talking about mental health issues in public and embracing therapy on the NBA's biggest stage, Artest has shown that people struggling with these problems need not be ashamed of themselves. In fact, like him, they can even celebrate it.
Charles Barkley famously once said that athletes shouldn't be role models, but Artest obviously thinks that's a load of bunk. Almost everyone needs a successful example to follow to overcome an obstacle, and Artest can be that person for basketball fans (especially young ones) coping with their own mental health issues. He's become a hero not just for the kids his charity will directly help, but anyone currently struggling with depression and related ailments. Thankfully, it doesn't look like he's going to stop any time soon.
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