Metta World Peace is better in Detroit than Ron Artest was

"I come here and I'm on a bad stretch so I ask the hotel concierge to get me a basketball. It's snowing and I'm in my shorts. We find a neighborhood so I can try and find my street game again.

"But the guy who drives me there notices a white car watching me so he calls the police. They arrive, find guys with guns and arrest them. I don't know what they had in mind, but I found my game."

Artest, though, can't avoid the NBA, taking the brunt of punishment for going into the stands. He's suspended for the rest of the 2004-05 season, certifying his reputation as a thug who might go wacko any time.

"Even as a kid I had anger issues," he says. "It's not normal to walk around on edge all day, but that's how I lived."

He's close to his parents growing up, but hears them argue until it escalates into divorce. He says he's filled with anger and depression.

He hears the same thing now in emails from troubled parents and kids. He always tells them the same thing: "The family household is everything."

He talks about helping kids a lot and has the resume to demonstrate it's more than talk. UCLA has already honored him for advancing the cause of mental health.

He's fortunate early on, he says, because his mother sends him to counseling while not allowing him to be medicated. And he still never has, although he acknowledges that's the answer for some.

"I was 13 when I met with a counselor. There were like 12 kids in a group and they all had problems," he says. "I just loved the group activities."

Easy to understand now why he enjoys playing for the Lakers.

He says he remains a work in progress, refusing to be called a role model. "I'm more of an example of what can happen," he says with insight.

"It's a great time in my life," he says. "I know now I can play with passion and not go over the edge. When I first came to L.A. I couldn't play with passion because when I got too high I couldn't control it."

The conversation over, so much time wasted in ignoring him before now, I remind him to have a good game against the Pistons and to behave.

I can't help myself.