New York Knicks Give Metta World Peace a Chance

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

As a New York Knicks fan and a born-and-raised resident of Queens, New York, I find it refreshing that the Knicks signed Metta World Peace earlier this week.

It’s great that the team signed a defensive minded forward who specializes in “dirty work”, something its higher-paid players aren’t exactly fond of. World Peace has also been around a championship team, something that this Knicks roster really wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing about.

When discussing the downsides of the addition of World Peace to the roster, we talk about a relatively below average shooter and shot taker whose more productive days in the NBA are probably well behind him.

It might not make sense to already be questioning  a low-risk, high-reward signing, but keep in mind that the red flags about World Peace joining the Knicks couldn’t be any further from the red flags that accompanied Ron Artest just a few years ago.

Getting drunk before – and even during – games, breaking televisions, excessive technical fouls, domestic violence and being the catalyst for the nastiest brawl/riot probably in the history of professional sports, memories of Artest overshadowed a Defensive Player of the Year award and his talent to be one of the better two-way players in the league.

It was indisputable that Artest was squandering away something special by just not being able to piece things together. Prior to being slapped with a season-ending 73-game suspension for the part he played in the Malice at the Palace, Artest was suspended by the Indiana Pacers for requesting time off from the team for being exhausted from a music project he had been working on in the offseason.

I mean, Artest wasn’t on Tracy McGrady/Kobe Bryant‘s level, but it wasn’t easy to rattle off many other better wing players in the league, at least until LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony leaped to superstar status. Even still, Artest remained an elite defender in the league, and was a key – although erratic – piece to the 2010 championship Los Angeles Lakers team.

The troubled young man who wore out his welcome with the Chicago Bulls, Pacers (to the fifth power) and Sacramento Kings learned how to play within a team and serve his role when he landed with the Houston Rockets for the 2008-09 season, and really began his transformation into who he is today before being traded to L.A. for Trevor Ariza.

It would be easy to say that Ron Artest is Metta World Peace today. Factually speaking, yes, that’s his name, but with the name change came a spiritual transformation. Tense, defensive, and aloof at times became open-minded, self-reflective, and straight-up whacky. When Artest made public that he was receiving psychiatric help, the concerns shifted from “he might kill a guy,” to “give me some of what this guy’s smoking, amirite?”

Not to say “the artist formerly known as Artest” (just beating Walt Frazier to the punch) has stayed out of trouble: he was suspended for seven games for a vicious elbow that he threw at James Harden leading up to the 2012 playoffs. World Peace is also one of the veterans who will pick up a suspicious-at-best flagrant foul here and there.

In other words, the physical toughness hasn’t gone anywhere. And neither has the mental toughness.

If anything, you can argue that World Peace is tougher than Artest ever was mentally. Clearly scarred from a difficult childhood in the Queensbridge projects, it took Artest through almost his entire career to achieve the peace of mind that undoubtedly inspired his name change.

And here he his, a 33-year old role player, still threatening to pursue different career paths (Arena Football League? Really?); just Ronny being Ronny – while loving every minute of being in front of a camera. In New York, he’ll have the chance to be a hometown hero, adored for his hustle as much as he’ll be loved for being the character that he is.

That is of course, depending on his shot selection.

Follow Jared on twitter at @JMintzHoops

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