November 16, 2010; Source: Los Angeles Times | When Ron Artest, then of the Indianpolis Pacers, climbed into the stands at the Palace at Auburn Hills to brawl with some Detroit Pistons fans, earning himself a 73-game suspension from the National Basketball Association, a number of national commentators characterized Artest as mentally ill. To Artest’s credit, he acknowledges his mental health problems and has been using his celebrity, now that he is a teammate of Kobe Bryant at the Los Angeles Lakers, to raise money for mental health charities.
His birthday party the other evening drew hundreds of Lakers fans, including actor David Arquette who famously separated from actress Courtney Cox, raising money for Artest’s mental health charity, Xcel University. The mission of Xcel is to “work with community centers and schools to identify high-risk students and give these students an incentive to live a positive, healthy lifestyle.”
The party sold more than $415,000 in raffle tickets, all pledged to Xcel. This isn’t Artest’s only donation to Xcel. By appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live, for example, Artest raised over $120,000 for the charity in one day. Earlier this year, Artest auctioned of his NBA championship ring and donated the proceeds to Xcel.
There is a reason for Artest’s commitment to mental health issues. Remember Artest’s thanking his psychiatrist for enabling him to help the Lakers win the NBA championship? He has been in therapy since he was 13 when his parents separated. Over the years, he received counseling for “anger issues, marriage issues, and parenting issues,” according to the former St. Johns University star.
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So who or what is Xcel? Apparently, Xcel has only existed since September this year, so it seems to have been more active in scaring up contributions than delivering mental health services so far. All of the press coverage of Xcel in recent months seems to talk about the charity only in terms of its relationship to Artest, so there might not be any operational Xcel program so far yet to discuss.
As a completely new charity raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars due to Artest’s visibility, Xcel might be well advised to make sure it gets to speak in its own voice to explain what it does (or what it pledges to do). At the moment, donors don’t have much to go on about Xcel but for Artest’s celebrity to gauge whether this is a good charity. It might want to do so as fast as possible.
Artest seems sincere about the topic of mental health, but given his history in the NBA, he might not have vetted the managerial and financial structure of Xcel exceptionally closely. This NBA season is likely to be a repeat of last season with the Lakers walking away with the title again. Let’s hope the title wears well on Artest and provides support for a legitimate youth-serving charity.—Rick Cohen