The NBA Should Root For World Peace

Last season, Metta World Peace wasn’t just out of the league, he was of the country, dabbling in overseas gigs in Italy and China after a forgettable 29-game stint two years ago with his hometown Knicks. He even became an assistant coach for the girls’ team at a high school in suburban Pacific Palisades. The basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest stayed in shape, but he wasn’t expecting an NBA team to come calling. That is until he received a call from the Lakers, the team he played for from 2009-2013, won a championship with in 2010 and didn’t forget about during his time abroad.

“I was a Laker fan when I was in China and Italy. I was always pulling for the Lakers and I’m back – I guess I’m adopted,” World Peace joked with reporters after a recent game in Brooklyn. “Sometimes parent’s will adopt children and give them gifts and L.A. gave me a ring and I love my adopted parents.”

World Peace, who celebrated a birthday last week, his 36th, returned to the Lakers on a nonguaranteed deal, two seasons after the team waived him with the salary cap amnesty clause. Despite having logged a 15-year career that included a Defensive Player of the Year award (2004) and an NBA championship (2010), the Queens native had to fight for a job this time around.

“It wasn’t easy being a vet and trying to get back in the league,” said World Peace, whose $1.5 million deal will not become guaranteed unless he stays on the roster past Jan. 10, 2016. “I don’t want people to think I didn’t work and just got lucky. I did a lot of hard work. Success for me is just enjoying the process, working hard, continuing to master the game of life and staying ready.”

World Peace landed the final spot on the team’s 15-man regular-season roster, making the cut over youngster Jabari Brown – a move that Coach Byron Scott called one of the toughest he’s had to make and baffled many because of his age. The Lakers consider his defense and veteran leadership valuable, especially for a team with a young core featuring D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. But he didn’t come back to just help the younger guys and lead in the locker room.

“I just want to play against the best players so if the best players were in Europe then I would play there, but the best players are here so I had to come back because I want play against the best players,” World Peace told me while simultaneously talking and stretching on a yoga matin the Lakers locker room. “I love to play basketball and I can’t play against the best players in China they aren’t that good. So that was my motivation to get back and I had a chance with the Lakers and the Lakers gave me a shot and I tried to take advantage of it and I was fortunate enough to come back.”

After a short stint with China’s Sichuan Blue Whales as “The Panda’s Friend,” , where he wore sneakers with panda toys attached to them, the Queens born forward signed with the Italian team Pallacanestro Cantu for the final 17 games of their Lega A season. He averaged 19 points and six rebounds in 15 games for the Blue Whales and was ejected from his final playoff game for Cantu. While he was a long way from the NBA, the experience abroad was a humbling one.

“It was cool. Different country, different culture, not quite Queensbridge,” said World Peace. “But it was a great experience, it was very humbling. Had to take the bus, had to get your own bags, you got to sometimes stay at crappy hotels. It was fun.”

World Peace can’t quite get up and down the court like he used to, but can still contribute in defense-minded ways. He was on the inactive list the first two games of the season and then an actively benched for the next two. But in Brooklyn last Friday, World Peace returned to an NBA court after a 623 day hiatus and didn’t miss a beat. His stat line of three points and three rebounds in 17 minutes didn’t reflect his performance. He was +12 and he provided Byron Scott’s listless team with a much needed spark on defense.

On Monday, World Peace earned his third start of the season in place of Kobe Bryant, who sat out to rest, and it marked another game in which he has been one of the Lakers’ lone bright spots. He scored 12 points and he’s averaging 7.3 points in 19.1 minutes over his seven appearances. He has also drained a whopping 48 percent of his shots from downtown and even earned the praise of Coach Scott.

“You have to give him a lot of credit for somebody who was out of the league for a couple of years,” Scott said of World Peace. “He worked as hard as he worked to get back into the league and be able to be a vital part of what we’re trying to do. It’s been great.”

While he has showed ability to still play, World Peace is also trying to embrace his new role as mentor, with his “Malice at the Palace” reputation burned and buried a long time ago. In recent years, he has spent much of his free time participating in charitable work and raising awareness for mental-health issues. He recently spoke of possibly transitioning into coaching after his NBA career and he is executive producer of a documentary set for release in the upcoming weeks.

But in the meantime, World Peace keeps the Lakers locker room pleasant in an unpleasant season, and is back playing the game he loves.

“I love basketball, so whether I’m playing at equinox, or whether I’m on the bench, or whether I get in the game, I’ll be ready. I practice hard every day, I’m in great shape, I just love the game,” says by far the most interesting player in the NBA today. “If I’m on the bench, I’m very vocal and kind of trying to put guys in the right spot and when I’m playing I’m going to give one hundred percent. Some people might think I’m a little old, but I can still move a little bit.”


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