On the paperwork Ron Artest filled out at Los Angeles County Superior Court yesterday, the mercurial basketball player attributed his legal name change to Metta World Peace to personal reasons. Fair enough.
The Los Angeles Lakers general manager who hired him, Mitch Kupchak, seemed amused about Artest's latest stunt, so his boss is fine with the decision. When asked how he thought the back of Artest's jersey should read, he said, I'm an advocate for world peace. Few fans will be completely surprised that Artest went Ocho Cinco on them and adapted a colorful moniker. And how harmful is it that an NBA star's jersey will read World Peace on the back?
Artest, who is known for his exceptional defense--and his role in the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl in November 2004, which resulted in the small forward being suspended for 86 games--has a history of colorful behavior, ranging from showing up to practice in a bathrobe to trying to get a job at Circuit City so he could use an employee discount on purchases. He has been suspended several times for flagrant fouls, and he once told about drinking Hennessy cognac at halftime during an NBA game in his rookie year. In 2007 he was suspended indefinitely after being arrested for domestic abuse. (He rejoined the team but was suspended for a week by the NBA.)
In December Artest spoke at length about his therapy with a psychiatrist, which started due to a court mandate, but was continued at the player's choice. The goal was anger management, and Artest said it has worked. I'm not as quick to judge somebody, he told ESPN. I'm not always as quick to say I'm right about something. I criticize myself a lot or just look at things from all angles. If something's going wrong or something I can't deal with, I'm trying to figure out a way where I can deal with it relaxed.
Artest came out of the Queensbridge housing project, the largest such community in the United States, and he's begun to give back. He donates a portion of his salary to mental health charities, and the 31-year-old serves as a mentor for parolees. He won the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award this year, voted on by the Professional Basketball Writers Association and given to a player who demonstrates outstanding dedication and service to the community.
Then again, he was suspended for one game just last month in the playoffs for a vicious clotheslining of J.J. Barea at the end of the Lakers' Semifinals Game 2 against the subsequent champion Dallas Mavericks.
Perhaps it's a classic case of fake it until you make it. Hopefully, Artest is not just turning over a new leaf but becoming a role model.