The Los Angeles Lakers have suffered through an uneven preseason, which started on an upbeat note but has grown more serious after three straight defeats in which the team did not play well. So far, projected starters Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov have not impressed, Julius Randle still cannot hit a mid-range jump shot, D’Angelo Russell is in a pattern of playing a good game followed by a bad game, and the coaching staff can’t figure out who should start at shooting guard.
With a week to go until the start of the regular season, it is time to put the pieces together which will include figuring out who will make the final roster. The two players invited to camp without guaranteed contracts are Thomas Robinson and Metta World Peace, who are trying to unseat one of the fifteen players on the roster who do have guarantees.
If this is the end for World Peace, it is worth looking back on a fascinating career that has given us a little of everything, from villain to hero and from disgrace to redemption. Along the way, there were name changes, number changes, team changes, fights, suspensions, championships, awards, and ultimately recognition that Metta World Peace, for all his complexities, is a pretty special guy.
World Peace, who turns 37 next month, was born Ronald William Artest, Jr. He was raised in Queens, New York and as a teenager could often be seen on the playgrounds competing with future NBA stars Elton Brand and Lamar Odom. He was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 16th overall pick in the 1999 draft and played for six NBA teams in his career.
His best year was 2003-04 when he was named Defensive Player of the Year and made the All-NBA and All-Star teams while a member of the Indiana Pacers. The following season he was part of the infamous brawl in which several members of the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons got into a fight which spilled over to the fans. World Peace was suspended for the rest of the season and post-season, the longest suspension in NBA history for an on-court incident.
The following year he asked to be traded, feeling he no longer had the support of his teammates. He went to the Sacramento Kings followed by the Houston Rockets, before landing with the Lakers in 2009. There was a report that he was so anxious to join the Lakers that he accosted Kobe Bryant in the shower after the Lakers lost in the NBA Finals in 2008, telling Bryant the team lacked the necessary toughness that only he (World Peace) could provide.
There was controversy when World Peace joined the Lakers a year later. Despite his pitch to Bryant the year before, the team had indeed gone on to win an NBA title in the 2008-09 season. In former UCLA Bruin Trevor Ariza, they had a young, defensive-minded small forward who could hit three pointers whose career was on the rise. Although Ariza was a free agent following the championship year, everyone expected the front office to quickly re-sign him, and it was quite a surprise when they didn’t, choosing instead to go with World Peace. The two players swapped teams, with Ariza replacing World Peace at small forward for the Rockets and World Peace leaving Houston to join the Lakers on a five-year, $33 million deal.
World Peace was with the Lakers for four years. The highlight was his first season when he helped (some would say led) the Lakers to their second consecutive NBA title, this time over the dreaded Boston Celtics. He was the Lakers’ best player throughout the finals that year, and in the decisive seventh game, a night when Bryant played one of his worst games ever, World Peace was the player who triggered the dramatic win.
World Peace was still quirky. His first year he chose to wear number 37, reportedly in recognition of the 37 weeks that Michael Jackson’s Thriller album topped the charts. He later changed his number to 15, which he had worn in college at St. Johns. World Peace’s reputation, however, changed dramatically. For his entire career, he had been the villain, saying and doing things that got him in frequent trouble on and off the court. He was legendary for his technical fouls and ejections from games.
With the Lakers, while he continued to be an aggressive defender with very quick hands, he preached peace and harmony and became a beloved member of the team and a model citizen. In April 2011, he won the J. Walter Kennedy Humanitarian Award which is given annually to the one NBA player who shows the most commitment and dedication to the community. That off-season, he changed his name from Ron Artest to Metta World Peace in recognition of his new outlook on life.
The team’s fortunes, however, sank after they won the title in 2010. World Peace did not get along with new head coach Mike Brown and found himself benched. The following spring, perhaps due to building frustration with the team’s plight, he elbowed the Rocket’s James Harden in the head giving him a concussion, leading to a seven-game suspension.
Things seemed to improve for World Peace the following year when Mike D’Antoni took over and installed a system more to his liking. However, he suffered a series of injuries and never really recovered. In July 2013, the Lakers released him after four seasons. He joined the New York Knicks but was often injured, leading to his release in February 2014.
By all accounts, his NBA career was supposed to be over. He played abroad for a season, then, surprisingly, returned to the Lakers’ training camp in 2015. The final decision roster spot came down to an aging World Peace or young shooting guard Jabari Brown who was Jordan Clarkson’s college roommate. Brown had played well in a short stint with the Lakers the previous season and was expected to return as part of the team’s growing young core. In the end, in a decision that was highly debated, Coach Byron Scott chose World Peace.
This is a new season, however, and it would again be a major surprise if he made the team with a bevy of young players and a new head coach in Luke Walton who is younger than World Peace. If anything, Thomas Robinson would appear to have the inside track if there is going to be a surprise, since he is eleven years younger than World Peace and a tenacious rebounder, something the Lakers may need this year based on their showing thus far in the preseason.
Although he has stated he would like to play for three more years, this may be the end of the line for Metta World Peace with the Lakers and the NBA. If that turns out to be the case, he should be remembered as someone who loved the Lakers, gave the team and Kobe Bryant their last championship, brought a great deal of entertainment to the fans, and gave his maximum effort on and off the court for the purple and gold. If the Lakers could find a place for him on their coaching staff that would be ideal, but as a player, the team needs to and likely will move on.