Lakers' Ron Artest needed help, and promotes youths getting the help they need

"It's nothing to be ashamed about,"said Ron Artest of receiving professional help for mental issues. Artest, whose NBA career is speckled with emotional outbursts, had an anxiety disorder diagnosed when he was 13 years old. He was on Capitol Hill during the NBA All-Star break advocating for legislation to provide children with mental health services at their schools, services he never had growing up in Queens, N.Y. (Getty Images)
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Sunday, February 20, 2011; 12:55 AM

My first image of Ron Artest came from behind a chain-link fence. On a sticky, Manhattan summer day maybe 15 years ago, he and future NBA stars Lamar Odom and Elton Brand worked their games and dreamed their dreams in a riveting AAU game on the West 4th Street Courts.

I vividly recall a good run going bad when one player, upset over a controversial call, violently punted the basketball into orbit.

Technical foul. Shouting. Ejections. Game over. Ball and sanity gone, never to return that day.

"I think it was me or Lamar," Artest said on Thursday afternoon, trying to remember who kicked that ball skyward. "Probably me."

We were sitting at a table in an empty banquet room at the Dulles Airport Marriott, an hour or so before his flight whisked the Lakers forward back to Phil, Kobe and the oh-so-important saga of whether the reeling defending champions will ever recapture their swagger.

The better story, of course, is the one about a player thanking his therapist on national television immediately after Game 7 of the NBA Finals - an outright brazen admission in the warped, never-show-weakness world of big-time athletics.

"I think people thought I was crazy at first," Artest said. "And then, after a while, I think people looked deep inside themselves that had issues like this and they were slowly saying: 'Wow, Ron Artest is really on to something here. And now, he went from a crazy to happy person.' "

He spoke a couple of hours after leaving Capitol Hill, where he spent part of the NBA All-Star break advocating for legislation to provide children with mental health services at their schools, services he never had growing up in Queens.

"A lot of my scars were never healed," Artest said. "So I had to heal my scars through counseling. You know, I had issues in my family that were more from a psychiatric stance."

Artest, 31, said he didn't receive an anxiety disorder diagnosis until he was about 13 years old. But it took more than a decade of often-bizarre and violent behavior - throwing a video monitor at Madison Square Garden after a loss ("You were there for that game, too?" he said, laughing); firing a rack of basketballs inches over terrified teammates' heads at halftime of a game; the melee with Detroit Pistons fans in 2004 dubbed "The Malice at the Palace"; and, most seriously, domestic disputes with his wife and the mother of his first child - before Artest got genuine help.

"My dad took medication so they said I should take medication too," said Artest, who declined and has chosen to rely on counseling and therapy.

"When I got to Sacramento, the NBA helped me find a good parenting counselor," he said. "They helped me find a good marriage counselor, which is probably the deepest counseling I've been through. And then I did anger management.

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