Indianapolis Ron Artest finally got the type of recognition he says he deserves.
The Indiana forward was the runaway choice for NBA Defensive Player of the Year on Monday, the same day he was suspended for one game for leaving the bench during a confrontation in the Pacers' playoff win over the Boston Celtics.
He received 476 points out of a possible 605, including 80 of 121 first-place votes from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters.
"I've been doing it behind the scenes since I was a rookie in Chicago," Artest said. "It's just been behind the scenes. People know I'm coming out to stop them, and it hasn't changed since."
Two-time defensive player of the year winner Ben Wallace of Detroit finished second, and Portland's Theo Ratliff was third.
Artest was chafed when he finished second to Wallace last season, partially because of his reputation as a loose cannon. He was suspended five times for a total of 12 games last season and fined repeatedly for flagrant fouls and emotional outbursts.
This year, Artest has shown a maturity and poise that was lacking in the past. Not coincidentally, the Pacers won an NBA-best 61 games in the regular season.
Always drawing the opposing team's best perimeter scorer, Artest finished third in the league with 2.08 steals a game.
The 6-foot-7, 246-pound Artest uses his fullback's build to muscle opponents and his quick feet to keep them in front of him.
"I've played against two of the best in Joe Dumars and Michael Cooper, and Ron has those guys blown away," teammate Reggie Miller said. "That combination of strength and speed, that's a hard match for anybody."
Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic agreed, saying Artest and San Antonio's Bruce Bowen, who finished fourth in the voting, were the two toughest defenders he faced.
Artest credited his teammates for the award, particularly fellow All-Star Jermaine O'Neal.
"If guys like Paul Pierce or Kobe (Bryant) happen to get by me, he's always going to get my back," Artest said. "We're the defensive team of the year."
He can also thanked coach Rick Carlisle and his staff for conducting an exhaustive campaign.
"It was mind-boggling that he had that kind of impact," Carlisle said. "You know it's going to be tough to score, but it may be even tougher just to get the ball."
What separates Artest from past winners like Wallace and Dennis Rodman is his ability on offense. The team's second-leading scorer averaged a career-high 18.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists this year.
He scored 24 points and also shut down Paul Pierce in the final three quarters of the game.
Even Pacers' president and basketball Hall of Famer Larry Bird marvels at Artest's versatility.
"He's big and he's strong. His quickness laterally puts you into a position you don't want to get, but I wouldn't mind taking a shot at him -- 20 years ago," Bird cracked.
Never one to worry too much about his performance on the defensive end, Bird didn't hesitate when asked what would have happened on the other end.
"He would have got his 30," Bird said with a smile.