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Metta World Peace Candidly Reflects on NBA Journey

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You may think of Metta World Peace as the guy the New York Knicks passed on for Frederic Weis in the 1999 NBA draft. Perhaps you think of a Defensive Player of the Year or a champion with the L.A. Lakers. Some think of the “Malice at the Palace” brawler with the Indiana Pacers.

However, if it were up to World Peace, when all is said and done he’d like to be remembered in a much simpler way.

“Just a kid from the hood, ghetto as f—, and loves to have fun; it’s pretty simple,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders with a smile and a laugh at the end of his answer.

Born as Ronald Artest in Queensbridge, NY, World Peace attended St. John’s University for two years before declaring for the 1999 NBA draft. The Knicks held the No. 15 overall pick in the draft and selected Weis, who is most famously known as the big man Vince Carter leaped over for arguably the greatest dunk all-time in the Olympics. Weis ultimately never played a single minute in the NBA.

Instead of going to his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls selected him one pick later. World Peace reflected on what could’ve happened in New York if the Knicks drafted him.

“Obviously I wanted to go to the Knicks, but St. Johns was the closest that I could get to bringing that fire back to New York City,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “As a kid, New York was in my blood, and that was it. I got a chance to play for the Knicks, so it was cool, but it was towards the end of my career. It wasn’t when I was the best defender and everything. But that was my goal, man: to bring a championship to New York City. It just didn’t work out that way.”

World Peace was then traded from the Bulls to the Pacers with Ron Mercer, Brad Miller and Kevin Ollie in exchange for Jalen Rose, Travis Best, Norm Richardson and a 2002 second-round draft pick (Lonny Baxter) on February 19, 2002.

In 2004, World Peace endured the highest and lowest point of his career with the Pacers.

That year he became an All-Star, won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award and was voted as an All-NBA Third Team member.

Then, at the height of his career, things went spiraling out of control on November 19, 2004. That’s when the “Malice at the Palace,” one of the darkest days in league history, took place.

The Pacers were leading the Detroit Pistons, 97-82, with 45 seconds remaining when Ben Wallace took exception to a foul under the basket and shoved World Peace all the way near the three-point line on the wing. The two teams exchanged shoves before things briefly settled down. However, it was the calm before the storm. Wallace then threw a towel at World Peace. Moments later, a fan in the stands threw a drink at World Peace, which hit him in the face while he was near the scorer’s table.

In the blink of an eye, World Peace made a decision that would change his life forever. He ran into the stands after the fan that threw the drink. Stephen Jackson and other players from both teams joined World Peace in the stands. Fans punched World Peace and Pacers guard Fred Jones.

Two fans with Pistons jerseys went onto the court near the Pacers’ bench and approached World Peace, who punched them. Moments later, Jermaine O’Neal also joined the scene and punched a fan.

As the Pacers attempted to leave the court, fans threw a chair, liquid, popcorn and clothing as the players went into the tunnel to avoid danger.

The league suspended World Peace for the remainder of the season, including any playoff games. Ultimately, he missed 86 games during the 2004-05 season, which was the longest on-court suspension in league history.

World Peace reflected on how the “Malice at the Palace” affected his career and the perception of him as a person.

“Well, I don’t really look at the perception from another person,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “The viewpoint of me is all about, how does the Earth kind of feel about you? How do the animals and the trees and the environment, how do they feel about you? That’s what’s most important, the connection that you have with all the good things about life, which is obviously the thing that provides us the most happiness probably. That would be the air, right?”

The following season, World Peace was traded to the Sacramento Kings for Peja Stojakovic. World Peace ended his Pacers tenure with averages of 16.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Most of all, World Peace and the Pacers ended his tenure asking themselves what could have been during a lost 2004-05 season.

World Peace became more of an offensive presence with the Kings, averaging 18.9 points per game during his two and a half seasons in Sacramento. World Peace made one trip to the playoffs with the Kings when he was acquired, but the team lost to the San Antonio Spurs in a five-game first-round series in 2006. During the next two seasons, World Peace and the Kings failed to make the playoffs.

The Kings then traded World Peace, Patrick Ewing Jr. and Sean Singletary to the Houston Rockets for Donte Greene, Bobby Jackson and a 2009 first-round draft pick (Omri Casspi). World Peace averaged 17.1 points per game and shot a career-high 40 percent from beyond the arc during his lone season with the Rockets. The team lost Game 7 of the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals to the Lakers.

World Peace signed with the Lakers in free agency. In his first season, the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series to win the championship. During the final two games of the series, World Peace played a vital role – as he averaged 17.5 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc, as well as 5.5 rebounds in 39 minutes per game.

World Peace has fond memories of those times in Los Angeles.

“For me, it was great because something I always wanted [was] a ring, and I got it here,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “That’s pretty much all I was playing for; I didn’t really care about nothing else. I got it with the Lakers and they gave me an opportunity to play for probably one of the best franchises in the world: Maccabi, Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys.”

World Peace returned home to fulfill his dream of playing for the Knicks after a four-year tenure with the Lakers.

After a 29-game stint with the Knicks, World Peace went overseas to finish the season in China with the Sichuan Blue Whales. The following season, World Peace played in Italy for Pallancestro Cantu where he went by the nickname, “The Panda’s Friend.”

After his stint overseas, World Peace returned to the Lakers as a veteran mentor.

These days, he’s older than his rookie head coach Luke Walton – his former adversary and teammate over the years. Walton gave an interesting answer when asked if he could’ve envisioned World Peace as a veteran mentor after playing against him.

“No. But when I played with him, yes,” Walton replied. “He’s done an incredible job of evolving and being the person that he is today. He deserves a lot of credit. He’s openly said he works with a shrink or what not. He’s great in the locker room. He’s great talking to the young guys. He’s great with the way he works, and he takes care of himself. I saw that in Metta when I played as his teammate, but when I played against him, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that would be the case.”

In the aftermath of becoming an All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year and “Malice at the Palace” brawler as Ron Artest, playing overseas as “The Panda’s Friend,” and returning to the Lakers to be a veteran mentor as Metta World Peace, the 37-year-old claims he’s never changed.

“It’s no different,” World Peace told Basketball Insiders. “I’m still very much in love with the streets, very obsessed with the streets. Like, I’ve always been the oldest, I’m a little bit more mature, but that same kid that loved the streets back in the days when he came in, I’m the same exact person.”

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About Michael Scotto

Michael Scotto

Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.