In November 2004, Ron Artest helped instigate and escalate the infamous Malice in the Palace brawl in Detroit. It was a stain on the league, and Artest became the poster boy for any campaign against perceived thug behavior in the NBA. He was a pariah and seemed to be cast forever as a problem child.
Tuesday, the NBA announced that Artest has been named the recipient of this season's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. There is a press release and everything. It is a real award and no one is going to pour pig's blood on Ron-Ron's head at the ceremony. Kevin Ding has more at OCRegister.com:
Artest was announced Tuesday as the 2010-11 winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, presented annually by the Pro Basketball Writers Association to one NBA player, coach or trainer for outstanding service away from the game. I will present the trophy to Artest on behalf of the PBWA just before tip-off of Game 5 of the Hornets-Lakers playoff series Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Artest has generated tremendous exposure for mental-health counseling in schools with his speaking engagements, even appearing in front of members of Congress in Washington in February. He raffled the 2010 NBA championship ring won in his first season with the Lakers, and the "Win My Bling" contest wound up in December with lifelong Lakers fans Raymond Mikhael of Hawthorne getting Artest's ring — and Artest's Xcel University charity getting more than $650,000.
"Ron has such a passion for the issue, and has demonstrated such leadership he was a perfect choice for such a prestigious award," said Doug Smith of the Toronto Star and president of the PBWA. "His work embodies the kind of dedication to important causes that NBA players have become known for."
In the past, we've covered Artest's ring raffle and his other efforts on BDL. Throughout them all, the most impressive aspect of Artest's work has been his complete lack of shame in discussing his past mental health issues. Often, the biggest problem related to this issue is an inability or unwillingness to reach out to others for help. By acting as such a tireless advocate for this cause, he's proving that you can be honest and forthcoming about past and current mental health needs without embarrassing yourself.
In the grand scheme of things, Artest's work with mental health awareness is probably less important than the work of Samuel Dalembert, last year's winner, in his native Haiti following the disastrous earthquake of 2010. But it's still important, and commitment like this should be applauded whenever it manifests itself. The public often says that it wants athletes to take an interest in the community that goes beyond basic initiatives like NBA Cares or team-sponsored community funds. Artest has gone well and beyond what's expected from most athletes. He's provided an example for others to follow.
It's also probably not a coincidence that he's gone from Malice in the Palace villain to awarded humanitarian. Without that high-profile mistake, Ron-Ron likely never would have faced his mental health issues and gotten professional help -- in fact, it took him several years following that incident to see a therapist. He has credibility in this area because he has lived it himself. That brawl will always be a dark cloud on the NBA. Still, several years later, it's proven to have a silver lining.
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- Ron Artest