Ron Artest, renaissance man.
Rapper, actor, comedian. And yes, in case anyone wondered, basketball is still part of his repertoire.
If ever there was a player to keep track of during a lockout, it's the Lakers' small forward who once feared he would be locked out by the league by himself in the wake of the Detroit brawl in 2004. But the current lockout is obviously different, with all 430 players unable to take part in the normal league happenings, and Artest left to entertain himself and others during these dark days of the NBA.
Metta World Peace, as he will soon be known, spent the weekend doing it all in New York. He was the opened at Carolines on Broadway last Friday night, his act that has officially gone nationwide after his recent Los Angeles debut.
Artest's informal summer streetball tour resumed on Saturday night when he was on hand for a Tri-State Classic game at 145th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. He sat down with SI.com to discuss his lockout life just before the game's tip-off at 9 p.m., when his weekend had barely started.
He later competed in games in the Bronx and Queens on Sunday, and had a television shoot on Monday. Artest's big-picture plan remains unclear, as he waffles between his dreams of being a United Kingdom megastar, a full-time comedian or a conventional overseas basketball player. He wants to do it all. Thank goodness for the lockout?
SI.com: We talked a while back about how you planned to handle the lockout. Now that it's here, give me the rundown of what you're doing.
Artest: We're definitely going to do some more comedy shows. We had four this month, but one of them got canceled. But we picked up like 10 more. I was going to go overseas and keep it going [with basketball] and get a check, but the comedy shows are paying [as much as I would earn playing] overseas, so I can just stay over here and do comedy shows.
SI.com: I don't know anything about the comedy game, but that surprises me to hear that it pays that well. It's pretty lucrative?
Artest: Yeah, man. It's pretty surprising. I was surprised, and I'm just being myself. The guy who booked me is booking some more, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be doing this for a little second.
SI.com: You never brought comedy up as a possibility when we had that chat. How did it come about?
Artest: I never knew I would do that. But all the comedians see you on TV, so I'm dealing with some agents who have the top comedians. One [agent] reached out to me.
SI.com: So that first phone call you got about standing up on stage and being a comedian -- what was going through your head?
Artest: I was super nervous. I knew I would do it -- I'll do anything. I'm not afraid of nothing. I was more nervous about [coming] to grips with [the fact that] I'm going to suck, you know? I'm like, "You're going to be horrible." And once I knew I was going to be horrible, I was like, "[Expletive] it. Let's do it." I was expecting boos.
SI.com: Where was the first show?
Artest: First one was at the Improv in L.A. And then we did three more at the Improv. The first show wasn't packed, but it was a good crowd. Every show after that was crowded. Friday [at Carolines] was crowded. I was surprised that New York was crowded. I mean, I'm from New York, but New York is a tough crowd.
SI.com: But you did OK?
Artest: Yeah, I did good, I did good. So now I'm ready. I don't give a [expletive]. That's why I went to St. John's [to play basketball]. It was the worst-case scenario for me, being from Queensbridge. I'd been getting in trouble since I went to school. St. John's was not the place I should have gone to. I went there for the challenge, you know what I mean? With comedy, I'm saying that now that I did it in New York, everything's great. I'm not afraid of anything. I'm not afraid to go somewhere and be myself.
SI.com: So what's your comedy process? You sit down and write your material, or go off the cuff or what?
Artest: I get most of my jokes in the bathroom. I go to the bathroom and come up with some silly stuff, some good stuff, and then I go get my pen and pad and my recorder, just to see how I'm going to do it. I'm not doing the whole set, but I'm trying to figure out which joke I'm going to say and how I'm going to say it. So I practice it, and then I go out there and do it.
SI.com: You ever practice with anybody, your kids or anything like that?
Artest: Sometimes I practice with my nephew [20-year-old Daquan, in Los Angeles].
SI.com: As if you didn't have enough on your résumé already ...
Artest: I know. But everything else I'm doing I'm like setting up and developing, but [with comedy] I don't have to do nothing. Just go be yourself, revamp my image a little bit. People kind of like that.
SI.com: Speaking of your image, where are things at with your name change? Is that official yet?
Artest: It's not official because the government didn't make it official yet. But once they make it official, it'll be official. They've got to change your Social Security and everything, checks. That's going to take a while.
SI.com: Talk to me about the UK thing. I knew you might want to be playing ball overseas, but you have a whole lot going on so where's that at?
Artest: The whole thing is that people talk about basketball, but they forget that the UK is a special place, you know? I'm looking at Spain, Greece and Turkey, too, but the UK is special. My whole thing about the UK was that I was going to go and see what movies I'll do. Then I got word that they're going to help me do a movie and a sitcom if I go, so they're trying to get me out there.
SI.com: What teams have you been talking to?
Artest: I've been talking to the Glasgow Rocks and the Cheshire Jets [of the British Basketball League]. I mean, it's not the best division in Europe, but I asked them, "Can I entertain?" Any team I go to, I want to know that I can have fun. The same thing I do in L.A. -- just have fun, play ball hard and be very entertaining. I think I have some comedy shows lined up over there, too, which is cool.
SI.com: What's the sitcom you're doing now?
Artest: I did a sitcom with BET that'll be out in October. And then I'm doing Are We There Yet? [on TBS]. I do that tomorrow actually, or on Monday. I'll be into TV a lot. And I've been working at it a lot, not just doing it.
SI.com: The acting part, you mean?
Artest: Yeah, I've been really focused. I've been taking acting class. Me and my kids take the same acting class. I've been working at it a lot, man. And then like you know, all the stuff I do in the NBA, all the funny [expletive] I did in Sacramento or wherever I was is not for my health. It's to build some type of story, you know? And it couldn't come at a more perfect time. There's a lockout. I already lost $7 million in the brawl, and now I'm going to lose another $6 or $7 million. That's crazy.
SI.com: You feel like the whole season will be lost?
Artest: I don't know, but I can't really worry about it too much because if it goes for the whole season, I [will have] lost a whole bunch of money. So I've got to think positive and stay positive.
SI.com: Hypothetically, and from a money standpoint, do you think you would be getting into all the things you're doing now in the entertainment business if you hadn't lost all that money? Is that affecting what you're doing now?
Artest: No, no, no. Obviously, I went to L.A. and I had to pay my taxes, and I took the mid-level exception, and I could've stayed with another team and just paid less in taxes where it's cheaper to live, like in Memphis or New Orleans. So it's not about the money. I was silly all the time. I was myself all the time. I mean, I'm not happy about what I lost, but I'm not a high-maintenance guy anyway. If I was high maintenance, that would be a big problem, but when I'm in New York, I take cabs and trains by myself. I'm not high maintenance at all, so it's not bad.
SI.com: Would you take your family to the UK if you go that route?
Artest: My daughter is working on an album right now, so they've got to stay in L.A. My kids have to stay in L.A. They have a lot of stuff going on out there and they're working on a lot of music, so they probably won't go. All four of them are working [on music]. I do so much and they see me and they want to do everything. They want to do everything daddy does.
SI.com: How do you feel about the Lakers, with new coach Mike Brown? I'm sure you're hungry to get back at it after going out the way you did against Dallas in the playoffs.
Artest: Obviously, everybody in L.A. wanted Brian Shaw to be head coach. Every parent, every kid. But it didn't work out, because the players didn't do what it took. It took greatness. We had three great seasons, but we didn't do what it takes to keep Shaw, so that was unfortunate. But then we got a good coach in Mike Brown, so it's awesome. I mean, he's one of the best defensive coaches, you know? He's probably the best defensive coach in the league.