Here's the great thing about Ron Artest: He really had to think about it before he appeared in Penthouse magazine. You know, the everyday Penthouse kinds of concern. But, in the end, it was worth it, since Artest says he got to show the world "my family and charities ... things people don't know about me."
Here's one thing: Artest wants to fight Ben Wallace on pay-per-view for $10 million. His sensitive side finally shows itself!
You want to take your NBA seriously? Great news: The NBA certainly wants you to. The league handed down this killer dress code recently that is clearly designed to take out the gangsta element, along with the fun element, the casual element, the sweatpants-getting-on-the-bus element and almost every other element not directly related to shirt, tie and coat.
Reading over the code, you get this horrible vision of entire teams posing for Men's Wearhouse ads. But who needs a locker room full of David Sterns when you can have at least one locker room with a Ron Artest in it?
Artest is as close to antiestablishment as anyone fully within the establishment can be. (And look, at the end of the day, he's a pro ballplayer making millions and staying in five-star lodges -- he's establishment through and through.) The man is fast becoming the Dennis Rodman of his age.
Like Rodman, Artest absolutely can play. And like Rodman, Artest knows it. When the Pacers forward says, as he did recently to the Chicago Sun-Times, "Most of the places I go, fans love me ... They all want me on their teams" -- well, that's a lot closer to the truth than away from it.
Artest also is a classic clown, which Rodman came to be over the years. Rodman wasn't that way in the beginning; only with the passage of time and the gradual increase in his visibility and basketball prowess did he morph into the boa-wearing goof that he eventually became.
Ron Artest is on that path right now. I don't have the slightest idea whether "the NBA" is better or worse off for it (is that Stern's NBA, or the NBA of the fans?), and on so many levels it doesn't matter. Since the man can play, he'll be tolerated in every incarnation: fighter Ron, rapper Ron, Penthouse Ron, autobiographical Ron.
Oh, didn't hear that one? It's another Rodman-ism. Artest says he is lending help on what is being described as a semiautobiographical movie project. Think Eminem with hops. "8 Punch."
Little drips and drabs of the Penthouse interview have begun to leak out, which portray Artest as exactly the kind of multilevel (or multiple-personality, take your pick) guy he appears. In one breath, he's touting something as ludicrous as formalized fisticuffs with Detroit's Wallace, his court-brawl sparring partner; in another, he is very seriously saying of Pacers president Larry Bird, "God put us together for a reason," going on to praise Bird for his willingness to help the poor.
Of course, the entirety of that interview lies somewhere behind the Penthouse cover for the December issue, which shows Artest posing with three bikini-clad women. Clearly, they didn't read David Stern's dress code.
Artest is essentially committed to not changing a thing about himself, especially the parts that others find outrageous. As the man already has discovered, like Rodman and a million before him, outrageous sells.
He reported to camp weighing 260 pounds and immediately said he wished he was at 280 -- you know, the better to break other people over his knee and all that. He showed up last week for his first exhibition with the Pacers, his first NBA action since serving that 73-game suspension last season, and immediately put to rest the notion of a kinder, gentler Artest taking the floor.
"I'm going to continue playing hard and out of control, like a wild animal that needs to be caged in," Artest said. He then went out and proved it, picking up three fouls in 12 minutes.
He's a bad boy, you know, and people love bad boys. He's the guy who went into the stands in Detroit last year after the Pistons fan who doused him with beer, inciting a near-riot that led to the NBA suspension and a probation-and-community-service sentence in Michigan.
Of course, that would never happen again. Right, Ron?
"I don't think anybody's going to throw anything at me," Artest said, "and I don't see me reacting how I reacted."
But just in case, better keep watching. And by the way: I like Wallace over Artest in a ninth-round TKO, but only if they agree to wear gloves.
Mark Kreidler is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Penthouse cover photo courtesy of Penthouse Magazine. Copyright © 2005 by General Media Communications, Inc., a division of Penthouse Media Group Inc. All right reserved.