Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"World Peace" and pro basketball?

For Metta World Peace, a New Name and Outlook

From the New York Times By HOWARD BECK — World Peace is possible. Just check the box score.

World Peace is there, between Blake and Murphy. On many nights, World Peace can be heard echoing across South Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles.

In this holiday season, World Peace is in the air. But only when he jumps.

The locals are still getting used to the phenomenon.

In September, Ron Artest — the Lakers’ burly, quirky, unfailingly unpredictable forward — legally changed his name to Metta World Peace. The first name is a Buddhist term meaning “loving kindness.” The last name is self-explanatory. The intent is noble — the jokes and puns irresistible.

“Give World Peace a chance,” read a Los Angeles Times headline Sept. 24, a week after the name change was stamped as official.

The name also leads to unfortunate assertions, such as a recent story claiming that “World Peace certainly wasn’t winning over many fans” in the preseason. They seem to have come around, gleefully chanting, “We want World Peace!” during a game at Staples Center earlier this week.

This is, more or less, what Artest intended when he made the change: to make the public, unwittingly or consciously, seriously or in jest, consider the concept.

“If you look at a young kid and you tell them, would they love world peace? They would definitely tell you yeah,” he said Thursday after the Lakers’ shootaround. “But as we get older, we change and we adjust to our environment. And we don’t think about little things anymore. But kids love, they love other kids. They love world peace.”

Kids may also love World Peace, although so far he has not seen many wearing the new jersey yet.

Because, he noted, “I’ve had a lot of jerseys” and “people are getting tired of buying my jersey.”

(For the record, World Peace will cost you $49.99 at the N.B.A.’s online store.)

In a statement released in September, Artest explained, “Changing my name was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world.”

It probably sounded curious, coming from a tough, notoriously hard-nosed enforcer. But the World Peace of today is not the Ron Artest who ignited the infamous brawl between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers in 2004. He worries Laker fans with his shot selection, but rarely with his behavior.

Last spring, Artest was ejected (and later suspended) for striking Dallas’s J. J. Barea in the face with a forearm. But he has generally steered clear of fights, flagrant fouls, technical fouls and controversy for the last several years. On more than one occasion, he has even played, ahem, peacemaker when teammates have tangled with opponents.

Mike Brown has tracked the evolution from a good vantage point, first as a Pacers assistant coach when Artest was still Artest and playing for Indiana, and now as the Lakers’ new coach.

“We’re all more mature than what we were back then,” Brown said. “We’re a lot more stable with what our roles are, with what our expectations are. He’s no different than I am.”

That last statement might be a bit of a stretch. But Brown clearly has a special fondness for World Peace, and a respect for the name change, even as others snicker. “I think I try to call him Metta more than anybody else,” Brown said. “I’m like ‘Metta, Metta Metta.’ And then I hear Steve Blake, ‘Hey Ron.’ I hear Kobe: ‘Hey Ron. Hey Ron, hey Ron.’ And it throws me off. So I’m trying. But nobody is helping me.”

World Peace is helping Brown, however. With Lamar Odom gone, World Peace is now anchoring the second unit, averaging 12.3 points.

Back in Queens, friends and family still call him Ron or Ron-Ron. Meanwhile, the name perseveres in two Artest generations — in World Peace’s father and son. “I don’t really have a preference,” World Peace said. “I told the guys don’t feel bad if you call me Ron.”

Even World Peace is adjusting to World Peace, admitting it sounded weird the first time he was introduced.

“Our preseason game they said, ‘World Peace is coming in the game’ and the fans went crazy,” he said.

The Lakers have accommodated their fair share of quirky personalities over the years, from Dennis Rodman to Vladimir Radmanovic to Phil Jackson. But World Peace is presenting a different sort of challenge. Team officials first had to establish whether “World” was his middle name or part of his last name.

So World Peace it is — on the back of his jersey, on his locker stall and every time he is introduced by Lawrence Tanter, the Lakers’ longtime public-address announcer. Tanter said he had practice, having been around when Philadelphia’s Lloyd B. Free legally changed his name to World B. Free, in 1981.

The Lakers’ record-keeping has also been altered.

“The name Ron Artest does not exist in our media guides,” John Black, the Lakers’ spokesman, said.

Artest was still Artest when he helped the Lakers win the 2010 championship. He later auctioned off his championship ring for $500,000 to help raise awareness for mental health, a cause he has championed since the 2010 finals, when he thanked his psychiatrist on national television.

“I think I accomplished a lot already,” World Peace said. “First I accomplished a lot with the mental health, changed lives. And people I don’t even know, I’ve probably changed a lot of lives, too.”

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