Former NBA player Metta Sandiford-Artest had a remarkable and accomplished NBA career even though there were moments when things could have been different for Metta. Even though he established himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in NBA history, Metta was actually a solid scorer in the early days of his career, especially as a member of the Indiana Pacers in the mid-’00s.
Metta joined the Pacers in 2001, and at that time, they were one of the best teams in the eastern conference. They had a great cast of experienced and older players, but they wanted someone young like Artest to solidify their chances in the playoffs. At that time, Larry Bird moved from being the Pacers head coach to become the President of Basketball Operations and was very much involved in developing Metta as a player because he saw his raw talent and potential.
In one of his interviews, Metta talked about the impact Larry Bird had on him early on in his career, helping him to expand his offense and becoming a legitimate 20 point scorer. Bird was constantly in the gym working out with Metta, mentoring him on how to improve his shot and what decisions he needs to make in specific situations on the court.
Larry Bird was in the gym with Ron Artest at the time, a young 20-year-old kid. I came to Indiana averaging 13 points per game. The next year, I was averaging 18 and the next year 24 points. Larry Bird was in the gym with me every single day. He wasn’t passing the ball or getting the ball when I missed, but Larry was telling me ‘get that elbow in and attack. I asked him how did he get to the hole because he wasn’t fast, and he said, Ron, you know what, if they are giving me the lane, I’m taking it.Metta Sandiford Artest
During the 2005/06 season, Artest made a significant jump in his overall performance, becoming the best player on the team. He averaged 24 points per game, almost becoming a member of the 40/50/90 club. At the same time, he was one of the best defenders in the league, and the Pacers had high hopes of making it to the NBA finals. Unfortunately, Metta tarnished his amazing start to the season with the infamous brawl against the Detroit Pistons, after which he got suspended, and his career took a somewhat wrong turn.
Metta admitted Larry did a lot for him in terms of growth and showing him how to be a true professional and student of the game. However, he believes he disappointed the trust Larry had in him after that incident. The Pacers were aiming for big things that season and had enough firepower to aim for a title. However, everything crumbled, and those dreams never become a reality.
I started to apply that to my game, and I was perhaps faster than Larry, and I applied that. My free throws were at 90 percent, three-pointers was at 40 percent, field goal was at 50 percent, and I was still the best defensive player in the NBA. I was going for the MVP, and I told him I will be the MVP. I was going through a lot emotionally at that time, and I didn’t give Larry the respect I am supposed to. The loyalty he gave me, and the time you can’t buy back, so that is what kills me about the whole Indiana situation.Metta Sandiford Artest
Metta never became the player Bird wanted him to be, even though he had all the tools at his disposal. His behavior was often the main reason behind his limited performance on the court and why he sometimes didn’t act like a professional. Nevertheless, he would later resurrect his career as a member of the Lakers, winning a championship and proving he is truly one of the toughest and most versatile defenders in recent NBA history.