Ron Artest(notes) is easy to mock. Just two days ago, we brought you a story in which he said basketball is not tennis for no discernible reason. Every week, there's a new story involving his doing something silly. He is like the blogger's cornucopia: full of stories, never empty, and always nourishing.
On the other hand, I respect few NBA players as much as him. And it's because of things like this. From Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:
Before he even gives away his 2010 championship ring in an online raffle to raise funds and increase awareness of mental-health issues in schools, the Lakers small forward is already focusing on another unprecedented donation that would mean millions of dollars and immeasurable attention to the same important cause.
He told NBA.com he is seriously thinking about handing over at least half, and maybe all, of next season's $6.79 million salary.
"I'm definitely considering the whole thing," Artest said. "Or maybe 60 percent."
Although he may not finalize details until the summer, he called the plan "very serious. I've talked to my wife about it already. It's a powerful message. The message is about the inspiration. That's what I want, to inspire people. People will be like, ‘Wow. Why is he doing this? Oh, that's why. Wow. We need to help educate.' I didn't come [to the Lakers] for the money. Obviously I could have gone somewhere else, even a lesser market. Pay less taxes. The taxes here are freaking killing me, you know what I'm saying?"
According to the story, Artest considered making a similar donation four seasons ago before his business manager convinced him otherwise. If he had gone through with it, Artest says he would have moved his family into a modest apartment if necessary.
As you may remember, Ron-Ron already plans to auction his championship ring for charity to raise money for the cause. Artest has struggled with his own mental health issues in the past, and he is clearly better for seeking out help. With these donations, he wants more people to have access to the same help he had.
Charity occupies a very real place in our society, but it's also typically kept to modest levels. By this standard, Artest's actions could appear to be overkill: Yes, we get it Ron, you want people to be helped like you were. But that point of view forgets the fact that Artest is being as generous as any NBA player in recent memory.
We often ask athletes to have more of a social conscience beyond buying themselves cars and mansions and mink coats with cell phones built into the lining. Artest is doing exactly that to a degree we've rarely seen from his generation.
It's fine to mock his goofiness, but realize that he's doing a lot of good, too. After several years in the wilderness, Ron Artest has become a great human being.