Ron Artest looked up from his energy bar and almost spit out a mouthful of crunchy goodness.
"Really?" he said. "Are you serious?"
The proud son of Queensbridge had been asked if he could name the last New York City born-and-bred player to make the NBA All-Star team. He couldn't, which was interesting because he is, in fact, the answer. Artest was a reserve in 2004, when he played for the Pacers.
"And I --," he said incredulously. "That's not good."
"There are still a lot of great players to come out of New York to not make the All-Star team. I'm one of them," Odom said. "Maybe I'm defensive because I'm one of them."
Right now, these Lakers teammates are the most successful New York City products in the NBA, and neither will be an All-Star this year. The only debate is whether Pau Gasol should join Kobe Bryant at the midwinter classic in Dallas. No mention of Odom, who entered Friday night's game against the Knicks averaging 9.7 points and 9.9 rebounds in 31.9 minutes per game, or Artest, who is averaging 11.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 33.8 minutes per game.
New York, which used to dominate the highest level of hoop with products such as Lew Alcindor, Bob Cousy, Connie Hawkins, Bernard King, Chris Mullin, Kenny Smith and Mark Jackson, has only eight players in the league today who played their high school ball in New York City. In addition to Artest and Odom, they are Rafer Alston (Cardozo/Queens), Sundiata Gaines (Molloy/Queens), Ben Gordon (Mount Vernon/Bronx), Royal Ivey (Harlem/Cardozo), Sebastian Telfair (Lincoln/Brooklyn) and Jamaal Tinsley (Tilden/Brooklyn). A handful of others grew up here - Joakim Noah (Manhattan), Charlie Villanueva (Manhattan) - but played high school ball in New Jersey.
Other cities, such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, are producing more (and more successful) NBA players, and New York City, according to Artest, puts out mainly a street ball type of player. Artest pointed to flashy guards such as Alston and Tinsley as players who "are talented, but they always want to stay at the street ball level."
Odom argues that it's more of a cyclic phenomenon and that the city known as basketball's mecca still deserves that label.
"Think about Rucker . . . West 4th," Odom said of two legendary basketball courts in the city. "You think of summertime basketball, you think of New York."
You just don't think NBA. The Knicks haven't been good in years, which adds to the drought. It pains Artest to the point that he suggested in November that NBA players are "afraid" to play in New York because of the demand and the pressure. Odom also said the Knicks matter to him on a personal level because "this is the team we grew up rooting for."
Artest laughed when asked about the Knicks' prime target in 2010, LeBron James, who scored 37 points against him the night before in the Lakers' 93-87 loss to the Cavaliers.
"No disrespect to Cleveland," he said, "but we need some star power here in New York."