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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ron Artest still creating elbow room as Metta World Peace

Almost as soon as Ron Artest changed his name last year, someone had to expect the headline was coming: “World Peace Suspended”. Now, taken out of context, this caption would probably cause folks in parts of North Korea and Sudan to jump for joy. However, those savvy individuals know that Kim Jong-un, Omar al-Bashir, and any other hyphenated world dictator probably would not merely use an elbow to subjugate the opposition.

It took about six months to decipher, but finally there can be a consensus on the meaning of Metta World Peace’s first name. Metta is a Buddhist term literally meaning: “Loving kindness to all, except when blunt force trauma caused by a flying elbow is necessary”. Presumably, a two-syllable word was a lot easier to use in place of the other 16 I used to encapsulate its made-up definition.

On Sunday, the Lakers forward delivered an elbow to the head of Oklahoma City guard James Harden, one the likes of which the world has not seen since Neville Chamberlain was elbowed aside by the whole of Europe during the 1930s. Harden suffered a concussion. Meanwhile, David Stern gave Peace a chance … to sit out 7 games.

In the past, name changes have been used for various purposes. Clark Kent became Superman because, well, the DMV frowns on having no last name and no one was buying Super Man as a legal moniker. Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines in country music’s first-ever existential crisis, or simply to sell more records. Chad Johnson played the Name Game when he became Chad Ochocinco in a vain attempt to corner the market on pro football fans who don’t speak Spanish very well. Ron Artest became Metta World Peace this past offseason, sending headline writers and those craving irony into an apoplectic fit.

Name change or not, most people have vivid memories of the so-called “Malice at the Palace” back in 2004, when Ron Artest, angered by being showered with overpriced stadium beer, ran into the stands and went Clubber Lang on a number of Pistons fans. The result was an 86-game suspension. Before this latest episode, Metta, Ron, Ray Jay Johnson, or whatever works, had been suspended by either his team or the league 15 times. Changing his name last summer was supposed to be a piece of symbolism, seeing as how he ended his season on an ignominious note with another in a long line of blatant fouls: hitting the Maverick’s J.J. Barea in the face.

Ron Artest became Metta World Peace, leaving skeptics like myself to contemplate whether it would be more difficult to achieve world peace than it would be to have World Peace hit two free throws in succession. Half of a calendar later, there still has been little or no progress on either front. In fact, with last Sunday’s elbow to the side of the head of Harden, most people have taken to once again calling the Lakers’ polarizing figure Ron Artest, suggesting that he has not changed at all but just increased the Lakers’ overhead by making the seamstress work overtime.

Since joining the Lakers, Metta has been the subject of discussion. In his first year, a game-winning shot against Phoenix in Game 5 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals followed up by a memorable Game 7 performance against the Celtics in the Finals, an unforgettable loony-bin press conference and celebratory barhopping in his game-worn uniform mixed in, endeared himself to Lakers fans. However, the year-plus that has followed has been less-than-festive. He has more or less made the news for his decline in production, drawing criticism for being out of shape, and noteworthy accomplishments have been confined to a cameo or two at a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center playing dodgeball against codgers in the offseason (one of the few things I share in common with Mr. World Peace). Now, in the midst of one of his most productive stretches since he joined the team, he will likely be forced to sit out the first round of the playoffs and perhaps more.

It’s not as if the Lakers’ franchise is unfamiliar with on-the-court shenanigans like these. Kermit Washington and Rudy T in 1977. Squabbles with the Celtics throughout the 1980s. Shaq versus Greg Ostertag… and Brad Miller… and Charles Barkley. And, who can forget Rick Fox squaring off against the wife of Doug Christie and her handbag in the Staples Center tunnel?

After the Metta-physical encounter on Sunday (sorry, I couldn’t resist), the Lakers’ rabble-rouser tried convincing the referees that his blow to the head of the Thunder’s top bench player was a part of a celebration of his previous dunk — I hate to see what he would have done had he missed. In a city that has seen its share of bad acting, not even the officials were buying that one. Ejected on a flagrant-two foul call, Ar-testy will have to fork over $348,000 in salary if he serves the suspension this year, the equivalent of many legal filings of name changes. On a side note, I found it ironic that the Associated Press report of the story featured a pop-up advertisement for Charlie Sheen’s new show “Anger Management”, itself an irony of epic proportions. The Lakers themselves need to keep winning  in order to have any hope of seeing their firebrand on the court again. Until then, Devin Ebanks will apparently be the team’s personification of tiger blood.

After yet another suspension, there isn’t much elbow room for MWP. An elbow to the head of Portland’s Derek Anderson cost him a game on March 19, 2004. Elbowgate #2 occurred on April 24, 2006 to the noggin of the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. The latest and most serious, though, might just leave World Peace in pieces. To add insult to injury it took place on Earth Day. Maybe Metta misread the famous environmental creed as reuse, recycle, abuse … Far be it for me to make anymore cheesy puns on World Peace’s name, so I’ll just paraphrase one of the most ardent peace activists ever, John Lennon: Imagine there’s no Metta. For seven games, I wonder if Laker fans can.



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