So this is it Laker Nation. The end of an era. Metta World Peace (also known as MWP, Ron Ron, Ron Artest, etc) has been amnestied (makes it sound like they gave him a ticket on the freedom ride) and released.
He’s since caught on with his hometown New York Knicks, for which I’m happy for him.
For those who don’t follow hoops, MWP was once Ron Artest. Artest was drafted by the Bulls and famously applied for a job at an electronics store for the discount while on the team. He comes from an extremely poor background, growing up in the projects of New York. A colleague of mine once visited his childhood family apartment and remembers just how destitute it all seemed.
Artest has moved around the NBA a lot, but in his past life he’s most well known for ‘The Malice in the Palace.’ An unfortunate moment in hoops history, where Artest and others ended up in a physical fight with fans. You can read more about it here, but it is considered one of the worst moments in modern sports. After a lengthy suspension and a move to Sacramento, there was a domestic violence arrest and an animal welfare claim re: his mistreatment of his pets. In other words, Ron was not doing well.
At this point the story often ends with NBA players. They end up being the punchline of jokes, or hated out of the league, or GM’s won’t sign them because there’s too much baggage. But Artest got a shot with Houston to rebuild his image, and although he had a few issues (the neck-cut motion towards Kobe), he seemed to be getting it together. Even the Malice in the Palace became a finely tuned joke of his own:
Then, the signing. Artest to the Lakers. When asked about why he took less to sign with the Lakers, Artest famously said if you can’t live on 33 million you just can’t live. Artest was now a Laker, and soon thereafter, now Metta.
With the Lakers, MWP rebuilt his image and his self. He started seeing a therapist and psychiatrist (and even thanked her after winning the NBA finals) as well as lobbying for increased mental health services.
All of which is to say, MWP is a redemption story. His sense of humor, candor, and the depth of the visible change in his character shows us a lot about what is possible. It also doesn’t mean he’s without problems, or that he’s won’t relapse into awful behavior again. However, the person you see now, smiling, advocating for services, auctioning off his championship ring to raise funds and awareness for services is, in DNA, the same as the one from the palace. But he’s a changed man. And that, Lakers fans will miss.