Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Metta World Peace

Flagrant fouls. A basket-brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills versus fans of a division rival. Admitting to drinking alcohol on occasion BEFORE games. These are some of the lowlights of Ron Artest’s NBA career. Moments that will forever be attached and linked to his name. But after a recent life-changing decision, he’ll be remembered for much more than that. Artest has decided to change his name to Metta World Peace, a word derived from the Buddhist language. Many fans and sports analysts scoffed at the idea, questioning the motivation and dismissed it as a publicity stunt. What they failed to realize is the significance of the name, as the word means “friendliness” or “benevolence”, words that fit nicely in the description of an athlete that found himself mired in controversy earlier this decade. Forgotten in all of this scrutiny is the fact that the brawl at The Palace took place 6 ½ years ago and that he’s actually had a pretty good career. He’s a former Defensive Player of the Year, an all-star, a two-time First Team member of the All-NBA Defensive team, and perhaps his most significant individual award, the 2011 J. Walker Kennedy Citizenship award, culminating a remarkable comeback from a tumultuous childhood and early adult life. Artest (he has a court date on August 26 to see if the name change petition has been approved) grew up in the projects Queens, New York, where he lived with five other siblings and two cousins, sharing two bedrooms. He witnessed his father abuse his mother, his parents eventually divorce, and lost his baby sister to SID’s among several other things that would shape his personality over time. His upbringing wasn’t unlike many kids his age growing up and was the genesis of his of his anger and frustration. Basketball would serve as somewhat of a calming influence to Artest but the inner demons he ignored would surface several times throughout his career. However, the last few seasons have birthed an individual that understands his role and responsibility… to help others. Its been no secret that he’s been receiving professional help as he’s openly talked about it on air, even thanking his psychiatrist on live television, as his current team, the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2010 NBA Title. I laughed like many others when I heard him say it. Not just because of the timing of the announcement but because you could clearly see a sensitive young man, ready to take on the world, hoping for acceptance while speaking in the most sincere form. He had arrived. Later on, he would make two decisions that nearly brought tears to my eyes. He decided to donate nearly his entire NBA Salary for the upcoming season to a charity for mental awareness. Also, he decided to have a charity raffle for his championship ring on his website, raising nearly $500,000. These noble efforts are not those of an “attention whore”, as some have unfairly labeled him. They are the efforts of a man who had the courage to face a personal issue and use his influence to help others. Regardless if he never wins another championship ring again, the mission has been accomplished. His story is one that can be viewed as inspirational and uplifting. He may not be World B. Free. Or Muhammad Ali. Or Bono. But he is a man. Thank you, Metta World Peace. Rock on….

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