Ron Artest Champions Mental Health

62167446Ron Artest made a big difference on the basketball court throughout L.A.’s run through the 2010 playoffs, and even hit the biggest shot in Game 7 of the Finals against Boston.

Throughout the summer and into the 2010-11 season, Artest is trying to make an even bigger difference off the floor while shining a light on mental health issues in kids for their ultimate benefit and well-being.

Artest has managed to create quite a buzz around the topic by announcing his in-place plan to auction off his 2010 championship ring. Dressed sharply in a suit, Artest joined “Larry King Live” on Wednesday evening to discuss:

I’d rather give more people an opportunity to get it so I can get the message out, because it’s not about the money but more about the message … I’m emotionally attached and invested in trying to better the youth, mainly people who grew up how I grew up. I had a lot of mental health issues in my household … I know guys who had a chance to make it in academics or athletics but go back to the streets and go to jail, they get murdered, things like that. I’m trying to catch these kids right where the turning point (could be) to possibly affect their lives negatively.

It’s the same message Artest has been putting out throughout the preseason. In fact, we chatted about the issue back in Las Vegas on Oct. 13, where Artest was awarded the key to the city. Below is a transcript of the conversation:

MT: What did it feel like to be given the Key to Las Vegas for your work in the community?
Artest: It was really cool, definitely something that I accepted and I appreciate the gesture. Councilman Olsen presented the key to me, and (Nevada) Senator (Harry) Reid came as well. They acknowledged what I was doing in the community.

MT: For those that don’t know, can you describe what you’re doing for mental health and how it developed?
Artest: It’s about supporting and bringing awareness to mental health particularly as it applies to children. The way that I had thought about making this movement big was not the way that it happened. I envisioned going through YouTube to do it, and I had a plan. Then it happened through a Lakers championship, and definitely without being on the Lakers and some of my teammates, it wouldn’t have happened this way.

MT: I know it’s something that’s very important to you personally based in part on how you grew up in Queens…
Artest: Oh yes. Personally, it’s definitely something that I’m emotionally invested in because from family to friends (having issues) I experienced both sides of psychology and psychiatry.

MT: How did all of this come about in Vegas?
Artest: Wow, I really don’t know. But I got my own day in New York on July 15, and now I have my own day in Las Vegas, October 13. I don’t know how long it lasts, I guess forever. People say, ‘What can you do with that key,’ but it’s not a key to like, entertainment in Las Vegas or anything. It’s a key to bring focus to mental health awareness. It’s a key to open up the minds of people to what I think is important.

MT: How would you sum up your message?
Artest: It all comes back to education. I know people personally, for a fact that are in jail because they didn’t have a father or mother in their life and didn’t have (an adult figure) pushing the right values. So before the next kid doesn’t have someone positive involved in their life, let’s fix it right now, because it will just cycle again. Because then when that kid gets older, he wouldn’t be in his kid’s life.

MT: So a big part of your goal is to have adult influences available for kids that need them starting at an early age?
Artest: I think a lot of adults right now are a little immature about how they handle the world, because we’re not responsible from pollution to education. But when we’re gone, we’re leaving these kids a mess, so they have to be able to be mentally strong enough to weather that storm. How are they going to fix it? You don’t need a bunch of unstable kids without education. It’s an important challenge, and a fun challenge (for us) to start helping now.