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Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Artest's memory of concussion unclear

By Dave McMenamin
ESPN Los Angeles

One-hundred-seventy-one days.

That's all it took for the Ron Artest honeymoon to end in Los Angeles, from the time he was signed on July 8 to Christmas Day, when he suffered an accident entering his home after returning from Staples Center following the Lakers' 102-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It didn't end the way many naysayers, who were wary of adding Artest's considerable list of conflicts to the championship mix, thought it would.

Artest The problem is we still don't know what happened because he doesn't know what happened. During the course of the impromptu 10-minute long press conference at halftime, Artest said some variation of the phrase "I can't remember" 15 times.

He didn't run into the stands. Didn't substitute Gatorade for brandy at halftime. Didn't come late to a game in a bus full of the family members of team personnel wearing nothing but boxers. Didn't wreck a television monitor or fight or tweet or do anything else with malicious intent.

But he may have just become a distraction through no fault of his own.

On Tuesday, Artest spoke to the media for the first time since his accident, which initially had been perceived as an unfortunate little mishap. But details that were once limited to a couple of press releases by the team and one-line updates on Artest's status through head coach Phil Jackson don't seem so little anymore.

The problem is we still don't know what happened because Artest doesn't know what happened.

During the course of the impromptu 10-minute long news conference at halftime, Artest said some variation of the phrase "I can't remember" 15 times.

The original story released by the team was that Artest tripped over a box and fell down some stairs in his home on Friday night. In the second version that came out, the story was mostly the same, but that Artest was holding a box instead of tripping over one.

Now the story goes, according to Artest, that he fell outside as he was about to go up the stairs to his home after returning from the game.

Only, the stairs weren't involved?

"The stairs really didn't have to do with anything," said Artest, apparently still somewhat out of it. "It was really concrete. ... I think I could have fell down a whole staircase and not gotten as hurt. The concrete was the main part."

As we start to piece together the incident like a Clue game (it was Ron in the Driveway with an X-Box), we also have to wonder just how long he'll be out.

On Monday, Jackson said he was hopeful that Artest would play on Tuesday. On Tuesday, Jackson said he was hopeful Artest would play on Friday.

With head injuries, you never know.

A growing concern with concussions in the National Football League caused key players, such as Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook, to miss chunks of time this season following blows to the head.

"This is my first time seeing him," Kobe Bryant said. "He doesn't look like himself. He still looks a little out of it.

"He's a warrior like I am, he plays through everything, so for him to be out it has to really be bothering him."

When the news broke over the weekend, the Lakers expressed concern for their injured comrade. Still, there was a hint of, "Oh, that's Ron being Ron."

Jordan Farmar, whom Artest said he contacted via text message along with Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown sometime in the hazy hours after coming to after the fall on Friday (after alerting Captain Kobe first, of course), said the team clowned Artest when they saw him for the first time in the tunnel before they ran out onto the court for Tuesday's game.

"We all laughed about it a little bit," Farmar said. "We laughed about it today when we saw him for the first time. As long as he's really OK. If they would have told us it was serious there probably would have been some concern."

In all, Artest was lucky. Despite some memory loss, a few staples to the back of the head, stitches on his left elbow and scrapes on his lower back, he made it through what could have been a much more severe ordeal.

He is experiencing dizziness, but no headaches. He can walk. He can talk. But can he play basketball?

"It's such a long season, something's bound to happen so it's just a matter of how you deal with it and how you play through it," Bryant said, who was called on to be a leader on Friday by relaying the news to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti and making sure Artest was getting proper care, all the while trying to enjoy Christmas with his wife and two little girls.

"I was very concerned," he said. "Very concerned, immediately."

The Lakers were able to survive without Artest on Tuesday night, thanks in no small part to Bryant's brilliance (44 points, 11 assists), but it was a game against a 9-22 team, the Golden State Warriors, at home, yet L.A. still trailed by seven at halftime.

If Bryant is a little less than excellent and the opponent is a little better than terrible, the Lakers don't win that game. It's one game out of 82, but with L.A. trying to win now to ensure homecourt advantage in June, one game could be the difference-maker.

"He does some things that are off the wall outside of the court, but that's his business and he comes to bring it every night," Farmar said.

Only when he doesn't.

Artest has missed three games and counting, and the longer he's out the larger the distraction will become.

Dave McMenamin is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.