A beat-up "Tru Warrior Records" Jeep made a turn on 6th Avenue in midtown Manhattan and parked a few feet behind me. "No way it's really him," I thought to myself, looking back a couple of times just to make sure. When the driver shut off the blaring hip-hop and stepped out of the car, I was at a loss for words.
It was none other than Ron Artest, dressed in a blue polo and tan Dickies cargo shorts (which continues to fascinate me for some reason). I stopped him and started blabbing about being a lifelong Kings fan and how excited I was to have him on the team. He nodded a few times, barely saying a word, and then motioned me over towards his Jeep. He reached for something in the backseat, and pulled out a dozen copies of his rap album — the same one that would later sell 343 copies in its first week on the shelves — as well as a plastic CD carrying case with his picture (which I now use a coaster).
Artest asked a nearby parking lot attendant for a pen, and autographed one of the CD covers, proudly telling me how he recently worked with big name rappers like Ghostface Killah and Mike Jones. I thanked him and wished him luck, though in hindsight, I should've been more concerned that the Kings' best player was once again more focused on his failing music career than getting ready for the upcoming NBA season.
Like most avid NBA fans, I'll never forget where I was when I first heard about "the brawl." I was watching Medical Investigation, an awful NBC drama that was like House without the interesting characters or a token hot female doctor, and flipping back to the Pacers/Pistons game on ESPN during the commercial breaks. I saw Artest sprawled out on the scorer's table after committing a hard foul on Ben Wallace, and then flipped back to NBC to catch the big reveal at the end of the show — the infection was caused by some kind of fungi in the bathtub, in case you're wondering.
My phone vibrated on the dresser and almost fell to the floor. "Are you watching this???" read the text message on the screen. I turned back to ESPN in time to catch a deranged Artest throwing wild haymakers in the stands with the help of Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson. But the most incredible part to me — aside from the fact that Artest didn't even attack the right fan — was that he didn't appear to be phased or disappointed in himself; he was actually excited to have time off when he was interviewed the next day. In the aftermath of one of the worst scenes in sports history, he decided to use his only on-air time to promote an upcoming album rather than to do something really out there like, I don't know, apologize to the millions of shocked fans across the country.