Leave it to Ron Artest to give World Peace a bad name.
From the moment the Lakers forward announced he wanted to be known as Metta World Peace, it seemed inevitable we’d be reading a headline something like today’s WORLD PEACE SUSPENDED.
I just hope the sports-apathetic weren’t too shocked by the news, wondering when it had been declared in the first place and being sorry they’d missed it.
For the record, I’m glad we live in a time when an athlete’s name change is calmly accepted, treated no differently than a rock star’s or actor’s. Muhammad Ali established that principle in the 1960s, in the face of old-guard writers and officials who kept calling him “Cassius Clay” and thought he was uppity.
Today we have no problem calling a wide receiver Chad Ochocinco if that’s what he wants. It’s his right, just like it’s our right to think he’s a clown for wanting it.
World Peace’s full swinging elbow to the head of Oklahoma City’s James Harden on Sunday was unpardonable, even more so because it did not come in the flow of a play. World Peace dunked in traffic, then gestured to the fans on the sidelines with a thump of his right fist to his chest. He went upcourt directly at Harden, who bumped against him, and then while still in physical contact with the OKC player, MWP cocked his left arm forward and swung it back forcefully, landing a blow just behind Harden’s ear with his bent elbow.
Harden went down, fast. He lay on the court holding his head, while at least one fool in a yellow shirt cheered from his courtside seat. World Peace was ejected, and the NBA announced he would be suspended for seven games, beginning with Thursday night’s season-ender against Sacramento and continuing into the playoffs.
“The concussion suffered by James Harden demonstrates the danger posed by violent acts of this kind, particularly when they are directed at the head area,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “We remain committed to taking necessary measures to protect the safety of NBA players, including the imposition of appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations.”
And so the sins of House of Artest are visited upon the World Peace family.
At practice on Wednesday, World Peace expressed his relief at hearing that Harden is okay – he was cleared to play, but sat out OKC’s final game – and he sent apologies to Harden and to the organization.
He described watching the replay online: “Oh, yeah, it was – oooosh – it was a brutal elbow. … At that point I was way too emotional. It seemed like anger, but it was a whole lot of passion. But it was erratic – it was erratic fire, erratic passion, but it was way too much, way too much.”
Asked if he had “lost it” on the court, he said, “I didn’t lose it. It was bad timing for me – and physically, it was bad timing for Mr. Harden. ... It was just erratic emotion, and bad timing.”
He was very lucky to be suspended for only seven games, just as Harden was lucky that his concussion wasn’t worse than it appears to be right now.
Metta World Peace didn’t exactly sound contrite in his remarks; he seems to believe the hit was accidental, that his celebration went awry, Harden’s head happened to get in the way, and he was too emotional and wound up to care.
Funny thing is, I think I believe him. After the Lakers won the title in 2010, he thanked his psychiatrist in an on-court postgame interview on national television. He’s smart enough to know he has control issues, and “erratic emotion” is a very analytical way to describe what he was feeling.
Even so, he deserved at least a 10-game suspension, and sitting out the entire playoffs wouldn’t have been excessive. Hockey players are responsible for what happens with their sticks even if it’s due to carelessness, and a person with World Peace’s a.k.a. rap sheet is responsible for the conduct of his elbows, whatever his brain is doing at the time.