Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: April 12, 3:02 AM ET
World Peace considered retirement
By Dave McMenamin
SAN ANTONIO -- Before he changed his name to Metta World Peace, the Los Angeles Lakers forward was considering an even bigger life decision: retiring from the NBA.
After scoring a season-high 26 points on 10-for-15 shooting in Wednesday's 98-84 win over the San Antonio Spurs, World Peace told reporters that he was playing through a lumbar disorder in his lower back last season. The back pain, specifically affecting his L4 and L5 vertebrae, was also limiting the range of motion in his legs and feet, severely limiting his jumping ability.
"I just thought my body was maybe messed up," World Peace said. "I was like, 'Yeah, 15 years is a lot of years. I got two more years on my contract and I could potentially be done.'"
World Peace was having trouble getting lift, even on wide-open layup attempts.
"It controls your foot, the downward motion," World Peace said. "So, if L4 and L5 is not working, or is compressed or inflamed, you might try to jump, but your foot, it's not going to move. It's not going to react."
World Peace was directed to a nerve doctor by Lakers trainer Gary Vitti after the Lakers were dismissed from the playoffs in embarrassing fashion in a sweep by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round. Just as embarrassing for World Peace were the career-low numbers he put up across the board, including averaging fewer than 10 points per game for the first time in his 12-year career.
Even though the problem was identified in May, the NBA lockout that started July 1 and lasted until early December prevented World Peace from approaching a rehab program with Vitti's and Lakers head physical therapist Judy Seto's guidance, as team employees were banned by the league from having any contact with players during the work stoppage.
Consequently, World Peace came into training camp 25 to 30 pounds overweight, according to estimates by the Lakers coaching staff, with work still to be done on his back. Also, World Peace had still not given up the notion of retirement, telling ESPNLosAngeles.com that he had contacted the National Basketball Players Association about retirement protocol should he not be able to play because of his back or if the Lakers decided to implement their amnesty provision on the three years and approximately $22 million remaining on his contract.
It was a gradual improvement for World Peace. He started the season on the bench and even received a DNP-CD early on in the year from new Lakers coach Mike Brown. His season averages coming into Wednesday -- 6.7 points on 38.0 percent shooting from the field, 29.1 percent on 3-pointers and 58.1 percent from the foul line -- are even lower than they were a year ago, but he's showed considerable strides as the season has worn on. In 16 games in the month of January, World Peace averaged 3.6 points on 27.5 percent shooting. In seven games in April, World Peace is averaging 14.3 points on 54.2 percent shooting from the field.
"Now I'm getting in more shape every day," said World Peace. He sticks to a diet free of processed food and also works in extra workouts when possible, working up a full sweat with Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco in the Suns' weight room following the Lakers' loss to Phoenix last weekend, for instance.
"I was top-10 once upon a time in this league and I took a quick drop-off," World Peace said. "Like, that's just not normal. Now that I'm taking care of my body, I don't know. I don't know what could happen now. But, I'll just keep working hard and see where it takes me."
World Peace estimated that because of the help of the Lakers training staff, he has more dunks this season than in his past four seasons combined.
"They set me up with a great program and I've been jumping, rebounding and, wow," World Peace said.
Added Brown: "He's extremely engaged.
He's locked in right now."
The Lakers are 8-5 this season when World Peace scores 10 or more points.
"I don't know where I was supposed to be at now in my career, but I'm going to keep working hard and I'm going to see," World Peace said.
He could still be the target of the Lakers' amnesty clause moving forward. The Lakers held off on using it during the preseason and will have it at their disposal this offseason should they want to shed the nearly $15 million owed to World Peace over the next two seasons from the books. But should that occur, retirement will not likely cross World Peace's mind.
"That's why I love the words 'don't give up,'" World Peace said.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.