Goodbye, Metta World Peace. Hello, Ron Artest. All the hard work that Metta World Peace has done to rehabilitate his NBA career took an ugly turn Sunday night. With one malicious swing of his left elbow, the fun-loving World Peace channeled his alter ego — crazy Ron Artest.
For a brief moment, Metta declared war on World Peace when he clocked Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden on the side of the head. Harden fell to the floor holding his head and stayed down for several minutes before going to the locker room to get checked. He tried to return, but Thunder officials advised him to sit out the second half as a precaution and get more treatment on his concussion.
Were Artest’s actions premeditated? That’s a question NBA officials will have to examine when they decide on the severity of the punishment.
Remember this, Harden was the one who got into Kobe Bryant’s face and did a little too much celebrating against the Lakers in Oklahoma City earlier this season so there’s a little bit of a history between Harden and the Lakers. In addition, Artest was elbowed inadvertently on the nose by Thunder forward Serge Ibaka early in the first quarter so Artest was like a wounded animal looking for some payback.
The flagrant foul was shades of the old Ron Artest, a player who once destroyed a TV monitor out of frustration and was the instigator in the infamous 2004 Palace brawl in Detroit that resulted in an 86-game suspension for the former Pacer. It will be very difficult for the league to ignore Artest’s past behavior, which lead many to believe and assume that this incident will cost the Lakers and Artest multiple games.
“It’s not a basketball play, man. It’s unfortunate he hit James like that,” said Kevin Durant, who had to restrain teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka from engaging with the fired up Artest, who was in a boxing position near halfcourt ready to rumble in case any of the Thunder players were crazy enough to throw down with him.
After a cooling-off period, a more peaceful Artest — realizing he could be facing a multiple-game suspension and a hefty fine — was apologetic.
“During that play, I just dunked on Durant and Ibaka. It just got real emotional and excited,” Artest told reporters. “It was unfortunate that James got hit. It was an unintentional elbow. I hope he’s OK. The Thunder are playing for a championship this year, so I really hope that he’s OK. I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden.”
Lakers legend Magic Johnson questioned why Artest needed to throw a “cheap shot” especially when he was playing well at the time (12 points) and the Lakers were rolling after trimming the lead to 48-47 with 1:37 left in the second quarter.
“You didn’t need that elbow to the head of James Harden,” Johnson said during the ABC halftime show. “I’m sitting here as a former Laker and just really disheartening for me because last year [Andrew] Bynum takes out [J.J.] Barea now this.”
Johnson added, “It was definitely intentional. You don’t go up to a man’s head without it being intentional. I love Ron Artest, but he’s gotta get suspended. This is not how the Lakers should be playing. I like physical basketball, but I don’t like cheap shots. And that was a cheap shot.”
NBA TV studio analyst Brent Barry says it’s a foregone conclusion Artest will get suspended, it’ll just be a matter of how many games he’ll miss. “As much as it’s nice to hear Metta apologize it still doesn’t make up for what he did to James Harden. This was a violent hit to the head,” Barry said.
His brother, Jon, voiced his opinion as well, and he didn’t pull any punches (no pun intended).
“You’re talking about reputation here,” Jon Barry said. “You’re talking about Ron Artest, not Metta Weird Peace. That’s the guy we’re talking about. Your reputation precedes itself.”
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