Ron Artest Returns To Queensbridge Roots
“Hood to Hollywood” the signs on the walls of the Jacob Riis Settlement House on 41st Avenue in the Queensbridge Houses proclaimed late last Thursday afternoon. Ron Artest, National Basketball Association standout and a son of Queensbridge, came back for a day to receive the neighborhood’s congratulations for a spectacular, if stormy, NBA career and for his recent efforts helping the Los Angeles Lakers win the 2009-10 league championship over the Boston Celtics.
Artest stepped out of a van that brought him to Queensbridge, donned a commemorative Queensbridge tee-shirt and came up the ramp to the porch of Jacob Riis Settlement House to be greeted by East River Development Alliance (ERDA) Founder and President Bishop Mitchell Taylor, whose organization aided Queensbridge in mounting the tribute to Artest. Taylor greeted the Lakers’ forward and introduced him, saying that with this event there was “a special message being sent” to residents, particularly young ones, of Queensbridge or other public housing in the city: that though life may be tough at times, there is a means to success that entails great concentration on skills and goals. Artest exercised such concentration growing up in Queensbridge in the 1980s and 1990s, Taylor said, adding that though successful and living far from Long Island City, he hasn’t shunned the old home place, being what the bishop called “a quiet supporter” of youth still living there. Oshane Davis, a recent graduate of Bishop Laughlin H.S., told the crowd that Artest was financing his schooling at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, beginning in the fall. Taylor stressed the possibility of overcoming harsh surroundings through education, urging teenagers to take advantage of the college access program available at ERDA.
Artest received several awards, official and ad hoc. He was presented with a citation from City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, which Taylor said “was supposed to be a proclamation”. Artest also received a lacquered plaque from Queensbridge Houses with a declaration of awe and respect for a local boy who’d grown up, gone away and made good. Artest held the plaque aloft while a platoon of boys, all wearing white shirts printed with “Queensbridge Outreach 2010 Basketball Camp (‘Drills Build Skills’)” surrounded him in a generational tableau.
Despite his reputation for combativeness, the sturdy, six-foot, six-inch Artest appeared nervous when he spoke. He pointed eastward and said he’d started playing basketball on 12th Street, a few blocks from the settlement house. He pointed to several older friends who helped him develop; in the case of at least one of them, by occasionally whacking him in the back of the head, he recalled. Artest’s way out of Queensbridge Houses began at La Salle Academy in Manhattan and continued in Queens at St. John’s University, where he was a mathematics major and, on the court, a player who led his team to the quarter-finals of the NCAA tournament in 1999. By then nationally prominent and having gained the attention of the NBA, Artest left school to enter the professional basketball draft. He was the 16th player picked, going to the Chicago Bulls.
Last summer, Artest signed a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, who then proceeded to finish at the top of their division and triumphed over the three teams they needed to beat to win the league championship in June. Artest was instrumental in the Lakers’ success.
The Lakers are the fifth team for which Artest has played in his professional career. “If I don’t play well, I can get pretty upset,” he said at the Queensbridge rally. Artest is considered one of the best defensive players in the game, but also held to be quite controversial. He set a record for steals in his first two years in the league but was involved in a riot in a 2004 game against the Detroit Pistons and received a suspension without pay for nearly a full season. The L.A. Lakers represent the latest phase in Artest’s career and may be the last team for which he will play professionally. Whatever the future holds, “I’m extremely happy, super happy!” he told the Queensbridge crowd.