More controversy for Ron Artest


Lakers forward Ron Artest created more controversy for himself after he said in an article published Wednesday that he drank alcohol during games while playing for the Chicago Bulls early in his career.

Artest told the Sporting News that he used to drink Hennessey cognac at halftime of games in part because the Bulls were losing so often. “I [kept it] in my locker,” he said. Artest played 2 1/2 seasons for Chicago after being drafted as a 19-year-old from St. John’s in 1999.

The story prompted the NBA to investigate Artest’s comments. The league said Wednesday it will speak with Artest before ruling on whether to fine him, suspend him or do nothing, NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

Frank said the NBA declined to comment further, other than to say, “We hope Ron has a successful season.”

Nine people currently with or associated with the Bulls expressed skepticism over Artest’s claim, according to the Chicago Tribune. All addressed the situation under the condition of anonymity.

Lakers spokesman John Black said the team had no comment. Artest’s agent, Dave Bauman, declined to comment.

Artest was unavailable for comment. The Lakers took Wednesday off from practice.

In the story, Artest also criticized referee Joey Crawford for his officiating during last season’s Western Conference semifinals between the Lakers and the Houston Rockets. Artest played for Houston, which lost in seven games.

“Joey Crawford basically said, ‘Who cares about the Houston Rockets? Kobe Bryant is on the floor,’ ” Artest told the magazine.

Given how much time has elapsed since Artest’s alleged in-game drinking, the NBA could be more likely to suspend or fine him for his comments regarding Crawford’s refereeing. The league planned to talk to Artest about his Crawford comments.

Strangely enough, Artest posted a party-themed post on his Twitter account early Wednesday afternoon.

“Let’s party!!!!!!!” it read. “This Friday:)))”

The tweet had been linked to an electronic flyer in which Artest was promoting a party at Club Empire in Los Angeles. The flyer showed the backside of a scantily clad woman, and it offered 50% off a $20 cover charge if club-goers brought a toy to be donated to “the children’s hospital.”

Artest has posted such club outings on his Twitter account in the past, most recently telling people he was going to a club last week for Lakers teammate Shannon Brown’s birthday party, but the timing of this one was a bit bizarre, given reaction to the Sporting News story.

Artest, 30, is no stranger to controversy.

He instigated what many consider the worst brawl in sports history when he played for the Indiana Pacers in 2004. But Artest, who signed a five-year, $33.7-million contract with the Lakers during the summer, hasn’t been a problem since joining them.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has said several times that Artest has been good in the locker room and an unselfish player on the court. Artest is averaging 12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 17 games for the Lakers.

Off the court, however, Artest has immersed himself in the celebrity world.

He recently appeared on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show with nothing on but his boxer shorts.

Artest said earlier this week he was enjoying life with the Lakers.

“I’m having a lot of fun. I’m doing a lot of different activities,” he said. “The template’s already set in L.A. All I have to do is hop right into it and just take what’s given as far as the different media outlets. You can do things like I did on Jimmy Kimmel. All that seems like funny and normal, whereas in another city, it might not seem so funny.”

Earlier this season, Artest also offered a glimpse into his spotlight-grabbing persona during a training camp interview.

“I’m always trying to be in the media anyway. I’m always trying to do things to stay out in the public, stay relevant,” Artest said. “That’s my history, of being a distraction to the team.”