Heading east on the 10 at 6:40 in the a.m., the traffic had been pretty light.
KTLA Studios was my destination and I had wanted to be there by 7:00. Before the NBA superstar got there. I was pretty sure he was going to be late, but I had told the KTLA crew to let me know when Ron Artest showed up. “He’s already here,” they told me. The guy actually had come early.
Ron had graciously accepted my invitation to appear on the morning news to raise money for a great charity, the Chabad Residential Treatment Center in Los Angeles. “We’re gonna put the fun in fundraising,” I had told him. ”All you have to do is make free throws.”
Ron had just signed with the Lakers, and after contacting him he had immediately agreed to help. His job would be to make as many free-throws as he could in 60 seconds. With each free-throw scored, L.A. businessman and philanthropist Shlomo Rechnitz would donate $1,000 to the CRTC.
At that point, we had about an hour to showtime, so we sat and talked about the importance of charity. And, of course, I had to ask him about the Celtics and who he would guard in the finals. “We got a long way to go before that, but I got Pierce,” he told me with a smile. (The Lakers went on to beat the Celtics and win the championship, with Artest having his best game in Game 7. I like to think that morning mitzvah got the ball rolling.)
“What’s your favorite charity?” I asked Ron. He told me he didn’t really have one. So we talked about the Jewish idea behind charity.
I told him the word “charity” doesn’t exist in Hebrew. The word is “tzedakah,” and it means justice or righteousness. He really dug that: You aren’t being magnanimous. You’re doing what’s right.
Since then, every time Ron scores a basket, makes a steal, blocks a shot, I get an extra thrill and my smile lasts longer.
Fast forward to last week: Ron does something that is absolutely astounding. Jaw-dropping. Inspiring. And absolutely otherworldly.
When a celebrity steps up and uses his/her blessings for a good cause I salute them, I honor them. I cherish what they are doing. Angelina Jolie, Bono, Oprah score very high on the “off the top of your head, can-you-think-of-a-celeb-who-gives-back” test. Former NFL running back Warrick Dunn, or former Laker Jordan Farmar come to mind as well. Farmar may not have the billions that Oprah has but he has the same passion. These stars understand that their celebrity and fortune are tools for doing more good, spreading more light.
So here comes a guy named Ron Artest and does something that takes the world of celebrity, no, the entire world, by storm, making a statement the likes of which have never been heard: He goes ahead and auctions off his NBA CHAMPIONSHIP RING for charity.
Here’s a guy that has auctioned off the most important piece of jewelry in the NBA world. Ron said, “It’s just a ring, I can do more good by selling it for charity”.
The auctioning of his ring, which was won by Raymond Mikhael, raised over $650,000 for charity!
Ron deserves tremendous recognition. He deserves accolades.
But most importantly, I hope that his teammates, fellow NBA stars, celebrity friends, movie stars and everyone on our planet will learn a lesson from this incredible act of kindness.
Ron, I salute you and what you did. You are an inspiration to millions of people. May you be blessed.
Chaim Marcus is the CEO of Marcus Advertising and producer of the annual Chabad Telethon. He also serves on the board of a number of Southern California charities. Mr. Marcus has worked closely with Larry King, Elliot Gould, Howie Mandel, Jordan Farmar, Jon Voight, and Lou Gosset Jr., raising millions of dollars for Southern California charities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org