Although Metta World Peace originally hails from Queens, New York, his basketball home has always seemingly been with the Los Angeles Lakers. And despite the fact that World Peace’s tenure with the team didn’t come until the back end of his career, when it was very clear he was experiencing a sharp decline in play, Metta’s role in securing the 2010 NBA championship solidified his standing in the log of Lakers legends forever. In the deciding Game 7 against the rival Boston Celtics, playing a team-high 46 minutes and finishing second to only Kobe Bryant with his 20 point, he hit the biggest shot of his professional career: a game-clinching three-pointer that brought World Peace his sole NBA title.
After the Lakers decided to turn the page from World Peace and use the amnesty clause to rid his contract from the roster, there were no hard feelings on either side. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, who rarely, if ever, makes a personal comment about a player when announcing a transaction, hid nothing at the time Los Angeles made the move (via NBA.com):
“It’s tough to say goodbye to a player such as Metta, who has been a significant part of our team the past four seasons. For anyone who’s had the opportunity to get to know him, it’s impossible not to love him.”
Kupchak was talking about the same guy who received an 86-game suspension (including playoffs) stemming from his role in the most infamous on-court incident in NBA history: The Malice at the Palace. Kupchak was talking about the same guy who openly admitted to drinking Hennessey at halftime when he was with the Chicago Bulls at the onset of his career. And most importantly, Kupchak was talking about the same guy who has now returned to the Lakers at age 35, looking for one last opportunity to contribute at the NBA level.
Since departing Los Angeles, World Peace has struggled mightily to find any semblance of basketball continuity. Although he signed with the New York Knicks prior to the 2013-14 season, Metta played just 29 forgettable games for the ‘Bockers before agreeing to a contract buyout. Following his brief sojourn to Madison Square Garden, World Peace spent time in both China and Italy, but his health (knee) was not in order, and he didn’t fare like many expected. Nobody watching from afar expected to see him on an NBA roster again, let alone a reunion with the Lakers.
Fast forward to August of 2015, and Lakers fans everywhere got a fantastic blast from the past: Los Angeles was considering bringing back the Artest formerly known as Ron. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, as usual, had the exclusive scoop:
There are varying degrees of interest within the Lakers organization about bringing him back to the franchise at 35 years old, although the idea has been met with enthusiasm from Lakers star Kobe Bryant, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
World Peace has been in the Lakers’ practice facility this offseason playing against the team’s players, including 2014 first-round pick Julius Randle, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Unclear what World Peace could offer the Lakers at 35 while looking like a shell of his former self, the news of his potential return was met with nostalgia and confusion. Sure, the Lakers were (and still are) ridiculously thin at the small-forward position, but what could Metta possibly have to offer at this point in his career? Soon after, again via Wojnarowski, we began to learn that World Peace’s return wasn’t so much about what he could offer on the floor as much as it was about what he was already providing off of it.
So much of the Lakers’ intrigue with bringing back World Peace at 35 years old centers on how impactful he’s been in the gym for the young players, especially Randle.
Every day, Randle is mesmerized with the intellect of World Peace. Everything Randle tries on World Peace – the pump fake, the jab step, the subtle moves to create a sliver of space and a shot – are seldom successful.
After World Peace didn’t like the way Randle was stopping the ball in a practice facility pickup game, he shot him a text later in the afternoon. “Go watch how the Spurs move without the ball,” World Peace instructed Randle. So, Randle turned on his laptop and started watching the simple genius of the Spurs.
As Randle proudly remembers, “The next week, [Metta] said, ‘I can see you’ve been watching the film.’ He goes out of his way to make things easy for me.”
Embracing the job of a mentor on a team clearly ready to usher in the next era of Lakers basketball, this isn’t a role World Peace could’ve possibly played at any point earlier in his career. Evident in the way he speaks to his teammates, with the media and interacts with those around him, this is a different Metta World Peace, a changed Ron Artest and someone who’s literally been through everything someone can endure while playing in the NBA. A matured man with a fresh perspective on both life and basketball, World Peace coming full circle with the franchise that welcomed him with open arms should no longer serve as a surprise.
Like they’ve done time and time again, the Los Angeles Lakers are dipping into their highly successful past in order to help shape better days ahead. Only this time, instead of trying to restore previous glory, the franchise is prepared to move on with its future.