Metta World Peace is better in Detroit than Ron Artest was

The Lakers' forward has developed a friendship with one of the instigators of the 2004 brawl. Don't call him a role model for anger management, however.

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. — When Ron Artest first came to town I ignored him, wanting nothing to do with a wacko.

"A lot of people do that," Artest says.

I thought he was just a thug.

"I tell people who call me a thug you're calling the right person a thug," he says. "I was raised to be a thug."

Others insist he's a sweetheart, although Ron Artest and sweetheart don't really seem to go together.

But here we are in a Detroit suburb, the wacko thug more sensitive, insightful and sweet than advertised. Metta World Peace is now nine years removed from the Malice at the Palace.

"The brawl," as Artest calls it, the day he flipped out and went storming into the stands looking for the fan who hit him with a drink.

We agree to meet over lunch along with John Green, the fan with the great aim who threw a cup of Diet Coke at Artest and won a $50 bet and 30 days in jail for doing so.

We can't meet Sunday when the Lakers play the Pistons because Green is still banned from attending events at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

There was a time when Artest would have welcomed such a ban, admitting now, "Nobody knew it at the time, but I could never ever go back to Detroit so I asked Indiana to trade me."

The Pacers were befuddled by the request, but Artest knew the Pacers were going to be regular visitors to Detroit.

"I almost had a nervous breakdown," he says. His stay in Indiana ended in controversy and Artest decided he would not play basketball again.

He put on 25 pounds, sank further into depression and was shipped to Sacramento. Timbuktu does not have a team.

The first time Sacramento was scheduled to play in Detroit, "I found a reason not to go," he says, while admitting he cried at one point.

"For two minutes," he says, probably coming as a shock to the guys who used to get out of his way in the 'hood.

Late word arrives about lunch. The cup-throwing fan wants to be paid $2,500 to talk, and while Artest says he might have been willing to pay Green if notified earlier, I'm telling him the newspaper would end the interview even before it starts.

Artest still wants to help the guy who almost cost Artest everything, meaning he really is a wacko. The thrown cup begins a chain of events costing Artest around $7 million in salary and endorsements and a year in his prime.

"I was so bitter," he says, and bothered by being bitter.

So Artest posts a picture of Green on Twitter and if anyone produces Green's number he'll take them to lunch.

He gets the number and goes to lunch as promised.