The Los Angeles Lakers may have lost a spark off the bench when Trevor Ariza signed to the Houston Rockets last week, but they found a replacement when Ron Artest officially signed with the Lakers on Wednesday (July 8).
In a press conference on Wednesday, Artest revealed that he's wanted to join the team for years. After becoming a free agent at the end of the regular season, his wish came true when he received a five-year deal worth about $33 million.
"This was a long time coming," the new Laker said. "As I started to compete against the Lakers and against Kobe [Bryant], I had respect for him and I always wanted to be a teammate of his."
If you noticed, Artest was present courtside during Lakers games during the playoffs, as well as their appearance the year before when they lost to the Boston Celtics. He said after their lost, he approached Kobe in the locker room and confessed that he'd love to play alongside him.
"I just wanted to make that connection," Artest explained. "I wanted to let him know that he played tough and he played great and I can't wait to be a teammate of his."
Artest is a 10-year vet in the league, playing with Chicago, Indiana, Sacramento and most recently Houston. During his career, he's averaged 16.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists, and even landed the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year award.
While Artest is definitely an asset, he's presence isn't a guaranteed improvement, according to Kobe. And, Artest agrees. "It's not a given that just because you add me to the team we're going to be the No. 1 team," Artest said. "You've got to put that work in."
Artest has chosen a new number as well. In honor of the late Michael Jackson, he has picked the #37, which stands for the number of weeks MJ's Thriller album was at no. 1 on the charts.
"I was trying to figure out a number, I was talking to my wife and kids," Artest said during the press conference. "I was on my Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook and asking everybody to help me pick a number. On my MySpace, somebody named Trish The Dish came up with the #37 and said that Michael Jackson's Thriller was 37 weeks at number one of all-time. 23, I was going to choose. It was available. It's a great number but, I thought [with] that 37 and Thriller, I can make that a new great number. I think more kids should start getting the #37 for a great human being, since Michael loved all people. I think I'm representing greatness in wearing #37."
That's not all. The NBA, who is also an aspiring rapper, recorded an MJ tribute track called "Michael, Michael."
(Listen or download the song here )