- The Washington Times - Friday, November 12, 2004

The basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest apparently is a Renaissance man to a fault.

At least his last name is convenient, as either Artest or Artist, a straight-up, vowel-centered exchange that Vanna White could appreciate, with no future considerations necessary.

Artist has either a rap or R&B; album set to be released Nov.23, which conflicts with his obligation to the Pacers.

He asked the coach to be absolved of the latter. The coach complied with a two-game benching and a twisted series of obfuscations instead.

“This isn’t the Cuban missile crisis,” Rick Carlisle said, failing to set the record and rap/R&B; album straight.

Artist is seemingly stuck in a permanent state of crisis, with no Cubans or missiles involved, just technical fouls, suspensions, demons and the destruction of the television monitors at Madison Square Garden.

Perhaps he has put all of it to sound, as professional basketball players often do, which is the art form turned cliche. It cuts both ways.

The rappers and singers want to be professional basketball players, and the professional basketball players want to be rappers and singers. The aim is to speak to the labels and dance to the dollars, the exercise fashioned with a degree of cleverness that overshadows the celebration of the man and the system.

The old-school Pacers are keeping Artist down, no doubt, which is too bad, if only because an artist trapped in the 6-foot-7, 246-pound body of a basketball player is an awful impulse to stifle.

Artist claims to be tired, in pain and creatively stretched, and after just five games of an 82-game schedule. It could be worse. He could have added a book tour to go with the release of his rap/R&B; album. Incidentally, the rap/R&B; confusion is fitting, given the well-documented confusion of the person.

Artist has what is euphemistically known as “issues,” which is a kind way of saying he was dropped on his head as a baby.

Not content to be the next Dennis Rodman, the contrived nut job who once threatened to legally change his name to Orgasm, Artist is tromping in new territory.

Rodman, in a wedding dress, may have been the original version of a “wardrobe malfunction,” but he always knew which commercial endeavor suited his interests best. And it was not MTV.

If Larry Bird and Carlisle were inclined to make a larger point, they might have allowed Artist to pursue his inner Dr. Dre or inner Luther Vandross. It might have been one way to reach the eternally unreachable.

Just wondering, but is America really clamoring for a rap/R&B; album by another NBA player, especially one whose marketability is limited?

Artist is hardly a transcendent figure in the manner of Shaquille O’Neal. He is a one-time All-Star who is more notable for his mental meltdowns than production on the court.

Alas, it seems as if everybody is a struggling artist these days, even the cashiers at the grocery store.

Many of them now pose the paper/plastic quandary in rhyme, sprinkled with their ever-predictable insights on ho’s, which is grocery-speak for the holistic aisle. Nothing against those who embrace holism, but you never knew a whole industry steeped in pathos and artifice could flourish because of one abbreviated word: ho.

Even Santa Claus employs three ho’s: ho-ho-ho.

Anyway, give Artist this: He is distinct from the rest of his NBA brethren. Most NBA players average 5.3 children by 5.3 women, 4.8 marijuana busts that require 4.8 members of the entourage to take the fall and 4.4 traffic stops that lead to the one question that has tugged on man since Adam in the Garden of Eden, which is: Do you know who I am?

Not too long ago, you either were Chris Webber or Rod Strickland. Now you are either Michael Phelps or Sean Taylor.

With Artest/Artist, the question is especially problematic, as the Pacers have discovered anew.

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