- Jemele Hill, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine
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It would be much easier to forget Metta World Peace's turbulent past, if he didn't so often provide present-day reminders.
With a vicious elbow to James Harden's head during Sunday's Lakers-Thunder game, it became 2004 all over again -- when Metta World Peace (then known as Ron Artest) engaged in a brawl that spilled over into the stands and remains the most embarrassing incident in NBA history.
World Peace certainly has worked hard to distance himself from that ugly display, earning the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award last season, donating this season's salary to charities that benefit mental health awareness and even going so far as to change his name to a universally beloved concept.
But this latest episode has resurrected suspicions about World Peace's true on-court character. And the fair reality is that World Peace's turbulent history is so extensive that it is appropriate for the league to consider it as it decides how to respond to his brutal action against Harden.
The elbow to Harden doesn't instantly negate the strides World Peace has made to distance himself from his rough reputation, but the Palace brawl meant that the league office has to have a permanent, underlying no-tolerance policy for World Peace the remainder of his career.
Was his elbow as violent as the one Karl Malone gave Isiah Thomas in 1991, which resulted in 40 stitches for Thomas? Was it as deliberate and dirty as Andrew Bynum clotheslining J.J. Barea in last year's playoffs?
No, but World Peace must be held to a higher and different standard. He needs to be suspended at least 10 games, and league officials would be justified if they decided on an indefinite suspension.
If you think that's too harsh, keep in mind World Peace has been suspended 13 times in his NBA career for a total of 111 games -- 86 of which were related to the brawl.
World Peace is a repeat offender and his thoughtless, jaw-cracking elbow will reverberate through two franchises.
The Lakers seemed to have jelled in the second half of the season, in part because World Peace has played so well. World Peace came into Sunday averaging 14.2 points on 47.8 percent shooting in the past 12 games, seamlessly picking up some of the team's offensive responsibilities while Kobe Bryant rested his injured shin.
Without World Peace, the Lakers are a weaker bet to win the Western Conference.
And unfortunately, now without Harden, so are the Thunder.
As of now, the extent of Harden's injury isn't known. Harden has shown the effects of a concussion, which means he'll have to undergo a thorough evaluation before being cleared to play. If Harden, who was among the favorites for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, has to miss any significant time, then it could undermine the Thunder's pursuit of a championship.
One blow could knock out two title pursuits.
Just as one brawl destroyed the league's reputation and cast harsh light on my hometown of Detroit, which never is in the national spotlight for the right reasons. (Even though the game was played outside Detroit in Auburn Hills, Mich., the city wasn't spared criticism.)
World Peace and his Lakers teammates have tried to characterize his nasty elbow as "unintentional." That explanation doesn't do anything but insult the intelligence of the people who hear it -- and those who saw the play. Yes, World Peace was in the midst of celebrating a dunk, and while he may not have intended to hurt Harden, it's difficult to fathom that he had no idea that Harden's head was nearby.
"I hope he's OK," World Peace said in a statement following the Lakers' 114-106 double-overtime win. "The Thunder, they're playing for a championship this year, so I hope that he's OK and I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden. You know, it was such a great game and it was unfortunate so much emotion was going on at that time."
Once again, World Peace didn't think. He acted. He selfishly put his own emotions above his team.
And just when we were contemplating a bright future for World Peace, he reminded us of Ron Artest's past.
1dMichael C. Wright
3hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
4hMatt Walks, ESPN.com