Local News

Thursday, Jun 16 2011 07:13 PM

Lakers' Artest talks to young fans

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Henry Chatman, the athletic director at the Boys and Girls Club, leads children in a dance prior to Ron Artest's visit to the Armstrong Youth Center on Thursday afternoon.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Los Angeles Laker Ron Artest talks about his two favorite colors as Henry Chatman, the athletic director at the Boys and Girls Club, listens during Artest's visit to the Armstrong Youth Center in Bakersfield on Thursday afternoon.

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    Gloria Rodriguez, 8, and Michayla Paggi, 10 react as Ron Artest's guest Tiffany Zavala, introduced as Taz, starts singing for the Boys and Girls Club. In the back, on the left is Henry Chatman.

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BY JILL COWAN, Californian staff writer jcowan@bakersfield.com

The last time Ron Artest was in Bakersfield -- attending a dinner for the Bakersfield Jam earlier this year -- one thing in particular left a strong impression on him.

"When we get to Bakersfeild (sic) I want some grapes asap," the Los Angeles Lakers forward tweeted Thursday morning.

As of about 5:30 p.m. he was still looking forward to the fruit.

"Love some grapes," he said. "I've been fiending for some big, plump grapes."

Artest was in Bakersfield again Thursday afternoon. This time, though, his visit had nothing to do with basketball -- or grapes, for that matter.

The National Basketball Association's 2010-11 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner made an appearance at local radio station HOT 94.1 to promote his burgeoning rap career, then swung by Armstrong Youth Center for a short question-and-answer session with the Boys and Girls Clubs.

After a very long game of Simon Says led by the club's athletic director, Henry Chatman, Artest arrived and took the stage accompanied by singer Tiffany Zavala, introduced as "Taz." A sign above their heads read "Lakersfield" in purple and gold paint.

"The less basketball questions you can ask, the better," Artest joked.

Artest then answered a few pre-selected audience questions.

His favorite colors are tan and blue, he said, and he attributes his size and strength to God and his parents.

"My dad's like six two," he said. Artest also attributed his desire to become a professional basketball player to his father.

Because the visit so closely coincided with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kern County's 45th anniversary, Zavala led the crowd in a rendition of "Happy Birthday." Artest blew out candles on a purple and yellow cake.

Finally, Artest -- who said that if he weren't a basketball player and musical artist he'd be a junior high school math teacher -- emphasized the importance of education.

"Y'all continue to do well in school, all right?" he said. The kids agreed.

Afterward, Artest said he was glad to have a chance to get out in the community. He said the radio station connected him with the club.

"It's important to reassure kids that need it -- teens that need it," he said. "And if it doesn't take us off schedule, why not?"

According to his Twitter feed, Artest was planning to make one more stop in Bakersfield on Thursday evening at Toniq Ultra Lounge on Calloway Drive.

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