Our survival depends upon it

Steve Hammer

Ron Artest should not, must not, be traded from the Indiana Pacers.

People should not misinterpret his latest piece of performance art, which is perhaps his most enjoyable to date. Ron Artest is a wonderful human being, a loving husband and father and perhaps the greatest player to pick up a basketball in this state.

If that means firing coach Rick Carlisle, so be it. There'll be 50 qualified applicants for the job.

If it means trading Jermaine O'Neal, fine. He's pretty good, but there are others who are just as good as him.

In fact, if it means cutting the other 14 players on the roster and rebuilding the rest of the Pacers with the winners of a reality show, do it.

If it means paying an added 1 cent in tax for food and beverage in the eight-county metro area, I'll do it.

Ron Artest must stay with the Indiana Pacers. To lose him now would be a gigantic rip in the fabric of the state, its very existence even.

The second an agreement is made to trade Artest, a massive and apocalyptic curse will descend upon this city and make victims of us all. It will be comparable in impact to a small-yield atomic bomb and its effects will be felt for decades to come.

Ron Artest must not leave this city and its people.

To those who are taking seriously his media statements last weekend, lighten up. The man likes to talk - he's a rapper, after all! - and what he was doing was creating an increased interest in the Pacers and diverting people from those attention-hogging Indianapolis Colts.

Go ahead and enjoy the holidays, do your shopping and don't pay any heed to Artest's words that he can't play for the Pacers anymore.

If his reason for not wanting to stay is, as he told Fox 59 on Sunday, "my past is hanging over me," Ron should immediately forget about it.

Listen, Ron. If you're worried that people here are saying bad things about you, they're not. The only person talking shit about you is Bob Kravitz of The Star. It's his job to talk shit, just like it's your job to play basketball. And talk shit on your rap albums.

If you think that misdemeanor rap against you in Michigan makes people look down on you, that's just wrong. You got what? Suspended sentence and community service? That isn't anything.

I know people fighting trumped-up felony charges. People get railroaded all the time. You'd be surprised at the names of some of the famous people in this city who've gotten locked up.

You should just take that out of your mind. People here forgive you for the brawl. We've given you a loving home for the past several years. Some of us have laid out hard-earned cash to buy your jersey so we could represent you.

Hell, after the brawl last year, I wanted to go to Michigan and kick some ass myself. Then I wanted to go to Ohio and find the 55,000 Bush voters who re-elected that crook and kick their asses, too.

If it's because of money, just chill for a minute. This Bush economy is making everyone poor. Nobody but politicians, corrupt business executives and criminals are making big money in this city right now.

I know it must bug you to see players on your own team who are half as talented and make three times as much as you, but you can't hate on Jonathan Bender for making a money deal at the right time and then getting to take five years sick pay.

Ron Artest leaving Indiana means not only losing a great player, it means losing a performance artist of the first rank, continuous excitement and laughter and a cultural icon on the order of Andy Warhol.

Ron Artest made Indiana famous. We didn't make Ron famous. Don't get it twisted. Citizens of countries whose names most Hoosiers can't even pronounce know the word Indiana because of Ron Artest and his heroic act of defiance on Nov. 19, 2004.

When Artest threw those blows in Detroit, he was fighting for us, too. He was expressing with his fists the feelings of many Americans, including myself, in those dark days after the rigged election.

He is a hero in the sense Che Guevera is a hero, a leader of men and a strong voice for revolution in the face of oppression.

That's it. Let's make Nov. 19 a national holiday, a day in which all of us can lash back at those who would attack or degrade us. If that's what it'll take to keep Ron in Indiana, let's do it.

This winter looks like it's going to be a long one, full of snow and ice. We need the Pacers around to keep us entertained on those icy nights when travel is impossible.

Getting rid of the most talented actor and dramatist from the Pacers would be like firing Urkel from Family Matters, or taking Jerry Seinfeld off the Seinfeld show. It just doesn't make sense.

The Bible teaches us that no sin is without redemption and forgiveness, as long as the sinner is repentant. Let Ron apologize for disrespecting his team and let's all move on.

By the time this hits the street, Artest may well have been traded, but hopefully he will stay. Is it not possible this is just the yearly Ron Artest Christmas Special airing once again?

One thing is certain: We will lose a lot when we lose Ron Artest.



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