EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Talking to Ron Artest is like, I don’t know, talking to an android. Or a Vulcan. Soft voice. Emotionless. Hollow. What’s the opposite of bravado? That describes Artest, sitting on a piece of workout equipment at the Laker practice facility, talking with an Oklahoma writer.
"I don’t think I did anything special,” Artest said a day after holding Kevin Durant to 7-of-24 shooting in Game 1 of the Thunder-Laker series. "I just move on to the next day.” Where’s the volatility? The outrageousness? Where’s the kook who said he drank cognac at halftime of some games? The thug who instigated the ugly Pacers-Pistons brawl of 2004? The public enemy who’s been arrested for domestic abuse and whose dog was seized for lack of feeding? Nowhere in this Laker compound. Not on this Laker team. "One of my favorite teammates ever,” said Kobe Bryant. Phil Jackson, who in a previous life coached the original Artest, Dennis Rodman, calls Artest a "nice, innocent lamb.” Jackson does so with a smile, knowing you won’t buy it. But even though Artest went all Rodman and celebrated the opening of these playoffs with orange and now yellow hair, don’t compare the two. "Couldn’t be a bigger disparity,” Jackson said, this time not smiling. Oh, really? Tell us more, tell us more. "I just said what Ron is,” Jackson said. "I’m not going to say what Dennis was.” No need. Rodman was a loony-tune. The evidence is building that Artest is not. The evidence is building that Artest, while an emotionally charged personality with perhaps anger issues over the years, is a little more grounded than the caricature we’ve come to believe in the last decade. Artest gave out his phone number over the internet so fans could call him. Took 50 of them bowling one night. Has become a regular dinner guest to one average family in the LA area. Call it a so-far successful gamble for Laker general manager Mitch Kupchak, who signed Artest last summer. Last May, Kobe shot an elbow to the throat of Artest in the Laker-Rocket playoff series, and Artest went ballistic. Had to be tossed from the game. But Artest wanted to live in Los Angeles.