Mettā : kindness, friendliness, benevolence, amity, friendship, good will, active interest in others. One of the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda school of Buddhism…
Well, now, let’s ask some folks in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich., back on Nov. 19, 2004, if that definition of Ron—excuse me—Metta World Peace rings true. Nothing says good will like crazy, and that brawl between the basketball player then known as Ron Artest and a few Pistons and luckless spectators was nothing but crazy.
The “Malice at the Palace” earned then-Pacer Artest an 86-game suspension, the longest in NBA history for an on-court incident. There were the elbows to the heads of Manu Ginobili and James Harden, and the wallpaper defense on so many players, none of which cried out benevolence. There were the odd actions such as choosing jersey number 37 with the Lakers to honor singer (not player) Michael Jackson, whose album Thriller was No. 1 for 37 weeks, thanking his psychiatrist after winning the NBA title, offering to forgo a year’s salary if the Spurs would re-sign his then-teammate Bonzi Wells, and riding the F train to his first game at Madison Square Garden as a Knick.
But maybe that last event is not nearly so odd as it is authentic and full of remembrance for the way things were for young Artest in the tough Queensbridge housing project where he grew up. He has been in the League for 15 years, played with six teams, and his rep as a ticking time bomb has followed him ever since he showed he was unpredictable and volatile and tough enough to scare anybody. But he changed his name to change his image and his inner world peace, and, like the rest of us, Metta is a complex human on a journey to (we hope) a better, more soothing place.
Late in September I found myself in a tiny fourth floor gym with him at a charter grammar school on 111th Street in Harlem. We were the two speakers for a cluster of kids seated before us on the tiled floor of a court so small that if you ran hard at the far basket, you would exit through the fire door and possibly to the street 50 feet below.
My talk was about reading and hoops and literacy. His was about role models and mental illness and surviving against all odds—including being fatherless and having your beloved older brother incarcerated—and never giving up.
He was not threatening or scary. He was vulnerable and caring. He was speaking from the heart, and he called kids up to tell their own stories. This was done for charity—for a group called Up2Us. There were no TV cameras, no posses, no payouts. Other Knicks were doing whatever they did during this time before the season began. But the former Ron Artest was here, and the Metta part was clear as glass.