- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

File this one under “Trades That Should Have Been Made”:

Milton Bradley and six months of shock treatments for Ron Artest and a psychiatrist to be named.

Oh, and here’s another:

Terrell Owens and two rolls of duct tape for … a self-addressed stamped envelope.

The problem with modern athletes, I’ve decided, isn’t that they’re given too many chances, it’s that there are too many teams to give them chances. Could Artest have afforded to be such a psycho in the early ‘60s, when the NBA had only eight clubs? Would Bradley have dared to carry on this way in the days before expansion? The answer to both questions, I humbly submit, is: No, no, a thousand times no.

Too many teams and too many talk shows to go on — where the players, enabled by the hosts, try to pass themselves off as misunderstood … when they really are misfits. Something in their psychological makeup, their world-view, makes them incapable of coexisting with teammates, employers, fans (the real employers) or the media for very long. Their blow-ups become so predictable that you can almost set your watch by them. (Philly lost its second straight? Time for T.O. to rip the quarterback again.)

But the talent of these flammable fellows is so alluring that, well, they’re like praying mantises. There’s always another club foolish or desperate enough to jump in the sack with them — even at the risk of having their head bitten off. And so Bradley, the former Expo, Indian and Dodger, is now with the A’s (temporarily). Artest, the former Bull and soon-to-be-former Pacer, will eventually sublet someplace, too. The same goes for the well-traveled Owens — once the Eagles release him from Elba, that is.

Which of these Accidents Waiting To Happen do you suppose will self-destruct first, by the way? Has Vegas posted any odds?

Artest has been fined so many times in his career that he’s practically a charity unto himself. And his Meltdown in Motown last year was only, oh, one of the 10 worst moments in sports history. But he averages nearly 20 points a game, plays dogged defense and has a contract that’s much saner than he is (2005-06 salary: $6.8million) — so the Pacers, naturally, did what they could to rehabilitate him.

Club president Larry Bird even posed with him for a Sports Illustrated cover at the start of the season. There was Smilin’ Ron astride a bench, a basketball cradled in his hand; and there was Larry Legend standing behind him, arms folded across chest. The symbolism couldn’t have been plainer. “I’ve got your back, kid,” Bird’s expression said. “Anybody who messes with you messes with me.”

After just 16 games, though, Artest announced he wanted out of Indianapolis. “My past,” he said, “haunts me there.” Or maybe it’s his conscience that’s bothering him. Or perhaps he’s starting to hear voices. Memo to his next team: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Unlike Artest, Bradley didn’t attack any fans, but he did send a water bottle in their direction once. He also created a stir last season by calling teammate Jeff Kent a racist (after Kent had the temerity to accuse him of not hustling). “Ol’ Reliable” he ain’t, but general manager Billy Beane is convinced the A’s can make a run next season, and he’s willing to gamble his new outfielder can make it through 162 games without any major “SportsCenter” episodes. He does this, of course, knowing full well that Milton only comes with a 30-day warranty.

But Bradley is 27 and Artest is 26 and, hey, a man can change, can’t he? That’s what these teams keep telling themselves — in the face of much evidence to the contrary. Plenty of players never evolve, never grow up, in part because there’s no Three Strikes Law in sports, not for the truly gifted. When one door closes, another invariably opens.

“It’s another fresh start,” Bradley said. For some players, it seems, their whole career is a fresh start. They fall — and some club gives them a hand up. And then they fall again — and some other club throws them a lifeline (while praying that Pfizer comes out with a new mood-altering drug). And then they fall again — and Jim Rome is on Line 1, “Best Damn Sports Show Period” is on Line 2 and “The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch” is on hold.

Too many teams, too many talk shows, too many chances.

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