For a five-year stretch between 2009 and 2013, my favorite member of the Los Angeles Lakers was the Artest formerly known as Ron, better known by his real name Metta World Peace. If you're prone to his Twitter suggestions, you might also refer to him as "Whole Foods Guacamole Dip":
If you've tried Whole Foods' Guacamole Dip, you might be inclined to believe Metta was actually serious about changing his name. And if you've watched Metta World Peace as a Laker for the past four seasons, or even as a member of the NBA the past 14 seasons, you'll also wonder just how serious he was when he wrote this:
Incredulity is a common thread through all the anecdotes of World Peace's richly "storied" NBA career. Who can forget the infamous story of a player from World Peace's neighborhood being murdered during a basketball game with a table leg? How about when it turned out that the story was actually true?
And therein lies the rub about Metta World Peace/Ron Artest's career both on and off the court: It wades delightfully in the gray area of believability. Did he really take 5.5 three-pointers per game last season? Did he really just sing a song about pulling the shorts off Paul Pierce?
Here are a couple things that are beyond doubt: When World Peace came to the Lakers as Ron Artest, his reputation was in dire need of repair.
The indelible image of then-Artest lying on a scorer's table that fateful autumn night in Auburn Hills and the infamous brawl which followed made sure the words "troubled" and "volatile" were appended to every sentence written about him. To the NBA world at large, Artest was the embodiment of everything wrong with the NBA: the alleged "thuggish" persona non grata whose militaristic loyalty to those close to him and the hellish Queensbridge projects he infamously grew up in were unfamiliar values to Middle America.
But contrary to popular belief, Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers wasn't an unapologetic sociopath: He just believed that acting the way he did was a reflection of who he was, the rare soul whose personal convictions outweighed his social fears to the point that, at times, they manifest uncomfortably in the forefront of the public conscience.
This was a man whose loyalty to his hometown and to his teammates transcended public relations, and here he was, on the television in your living room, playing one of America's quintessential sports. Because despite the cameras and the shoe deals and the millions, Ron Artest wasn't afraid to be himself—and you had to see it to believe it.
As a member of the Lakers, Artest didn't exactly flourish on the court. He was no longer the spry, youthful defender with hellacious perimeter coverage. Instead, he was the wily veteran with elbows like cement bricks, a body like the center divider on the Interstate-5.
But his contribution came at a key time: at the aforementioned Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant went so far as to say that the Lakers don't win that game without Artest. Bryant, who infamously went 6 of 24 from the field against the Celtics, was one of the benefactors of Artest's 20-point, five-rebound, five-steal performance.
Artest then thanked his psychiatrist and changed his name to Metta World Peace, but his reinvention off the court as a quirky, lovable Angeleno was already well underway.
If he wasn't surprising an online fan at her birthday party, he was throwing barbecues and playing Monopoly on the beach, or appearing half naked on Jimmy Kimmel Live. The city of Los Angeles got to see the Ron Artest the rest of the world never knew: the health freak who could analogize basketball situations to a hamburger's composition. The guy who inadvertently created Hollywood's most tolerable couple by introducing Khloe Kardashian to Lamar Odom.
Today, according to ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin, the Lakers officially waived the allegedly soon-to-be-christened "Whole Foods Guacamole Dip" through the amnesty clause in the collective bargaining agreement. From a basketball management standpoint, it was a sound decision.
They'll save close to $14 million and gain some breathing room to build their reserves. They'll probably have about 200 less ill-advised three-point attempts. But the Lakers also lost perhaps one of its most lovable players, a truly unique character in sports whose path to personal redemption was as unorthodox as it was endearing.
So in an offseason marked with departures (including that other guy who hightailed it for Houston), for Laker fans it'll be Metta World Peace who will perhaps be missed the most. I know, it's hard to believe. But when it comes to Metta World Peace, shouldn't we all know better by now?
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