Ron Artest

It used to be hip to say that Ron Artest was “complicated” or “misunderstood” and based on what we know now about him, those were accurate statements. With today’s announcement that Ron Artest is the 2010-11 winner of the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award — an annual award given to an NBA player, coach, or trainer who demonstrates “outstanding service and dedication to the community” — it’s clear that perception has caught up with reality. Ron-Ron is a good dude with a giant heart who just happens to have a few issues.

Artest launched himself into the forefront of mental health advocacy when he thanked his psychiatrist in an interview right after the Lakers clinched the 2010 NBA title. Since then, he’s spent much of his free time raising awareness of the importance of mental health programs for children. Even more impressively, he raised over $500,000 for his Xcel University charity for young people with mental health issues by raffling off his championship ring, and he has pledged most of his 2010-11 salary of approximately $6.2 million to help bring psychologists into schools.

Thanks to his own therapy sessions, Artest has been a model citizen and teammate since he joined the Lakers and his passion for helping other people benefit from professional psychotherapy is why he is an ideal recipient of this year’s award. Furthermore, I think the basketball writing community can do its part to show him the respect he’s earned by never again mentioning “that night” in articles about him. It’s clear he deserves better than that.