LOS Angeles Lakers star Ron Artest was last night keeping the Cheshire Jets and the wider basketball world on tenterhooks over his proposed move to the BBL Championship side.
The 31-year-old forward, who helped the Lakers lift the NBA Championship in 2009, is currently in possession of a contract from the Jets and was due to fly into Britain today to take part in a press conference and fulfil a number of media engagements over the weekend linked to his signing.
Jets officials are still hoping he will arrive by the end of the week and the player gave the strongest signal yet he will go through with the deal on www.latimes.com where he was reported to say: “I’m definitely going to play for the Jets.
“It all came from Twitter. I just thought it was cool that this professional team is trying to get me. The opportunity for me seemed fun in getting the chance to play in the UK and entertain the fans.”
But Jets are still waiting for the superstar to actually sign the contract so they can formally introduce him to the British public.
Artest, in the middle of a $33 million contract with the Lakers, began to consider a move to Britain because the NBA entered into a pay dispute with the NBA Players Association – the union which represents all NBA players including Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Artest.
That row resulted in a lockout which prevents NBA teams from signing, training or interacting with players.
The NBA season is due to start in November but fears the dispute may delay the schedule have forced Artest and other NBA stars to cast their eyes abroad.
While most consider offers to play in lucrative leagues like China and Turkey, Artest revealed on social networking site Twitter he liked the idea of coming to the British Basketball League.
After weeks of protracted talks the Jets finally reached a verbal agreement on a deal and sent a contract to Artest’s attorneys.
Despite reports he intends to come over to enhance his music and acting career, Artest said basketball was his priority.
“I’m going first and foremost to play for the Jets,” he told the LA Times.
“It’s a lockout, I can’t do anything. I can’t play for the Lakers because there’s a lockout. There’s no obligation to play anywhere, but you can play professional ball overseas.”
And he reportedly challenged other players to join him.
“If people want to play the best defensive player of the game, come to the UK, I’m going to be right there,” he added. “I’m not chasing anybody. If teams want to play one of the best defenders in the history of the NBA, come to the UK.
“I’m going to play hard. If people want to play against Ron Artest and play basketball, not chase the money – come to the UK.
“I’m going to be there and we’re going to be going hard.”
One signing the Jets have completed is the re-signing of captain Colin O’Reilly.
The 6ft 7ins forward, 27, said: “Their plans have grown bigger for the club, and it was an easy decision to re-sign for this season.
“I feel it’s the right place at the right time in my career.”