Metta World Peace Deserves Modest Suspension Only

I don’t like Metta “Formerly Ron Artest” World Peace. I haven’t liked him since the “Malice at the Palace,” and I really haven’t liked him since he joined the Lakers.

But World Peace didn’t elbow Thunder guard James Harden in the face on purpose Sunday. And when it comes to suspensions, intention should always count more than player history.

Here’s the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iKxuxN_hYg

Was World Peace showboating, or was he trying to injure someone? Judging by his face, World Peace’s face looks lost in the moment. He’d just unleashed a monstrous dunk at home – over a different Thunder player than Harden, remember – and he wanted to live it up for the Staples Center crowd, hoping to inspire them enough to inspire the team to overcome what was then just a one-point deficit.

Then Harden walks into the side of World Peace’s body. Not the smartest move Harden could’ve made, though as one of the Thunder’s ball-carriers he might have just been trying to get closer to the end line.

And then World Peace elbows Harden in the side of the head.

Whatever Harden was trying to do, it doesn’t excuse World Peace’s unnecessarily violent enthusiasm. But it might explain the incident in a way that doesn’t force World Peace to also account for every other bad or dumb thing he’s done since joining the league.

When they can’t think of something clever, stand-up comics often fall back on the cliched observation that girlfriends use history instead of logic to win arguments. They’ll use incidents not thought about by their boyfriends in months, if not years, in an effort to put the latest wrong into a pattern of wrongdoing dating back to approximately the dawn of civilization.

I have no idea how accurate this observation is, but I doknow that every person deserves to have his actions looked at dispassionately before they get lashed onto a behavioral pattern. And even with my biases, I don’t see World Peace’s elbow as an intent to injure.

The NBA can be quite subjective when it comes to incidents like this. Some players get preferential treatment, while others are made into examples. The NBA has a zero-tolerance approach to unsportsmanlike conduct… as long as they don’t like or make a lot of money (often the same thing) off the player in question.

This strategy forces certain players to hold themselves to a higher behavioral standard than others. Tim Duncan has never had to toe the line the way Rasheed Wallace did, because the league assumes Duncan will never do anything wrong and has always given him the benefit of the doubt.

Wallace, meanwhile, had to watch himself so tightly throughout his career that he almost couldn’t help but slip up from time, resulting in technical fouls a “stand-up guy” like Duncan never would receive. This disciplinary system has split the NBA into tiers. Not everyone is equal in the eyes of the league.

I may not like Metta World Peace, but I don't think he elbowed James Harden in the face on purpose Sunday. (smokingsection.uproxx.com)

World Peace has been on the NBA’s blacklist for nearly nine years following his brawl in Detroit. He’s changed teams not once but thrice in an effort to shed his history. For God’s sake, he even changed his name to get away from his past.

Unfortunately, Metta World Peace will now have to become Ron Artest again. Some punishment must come: Harden suffered a concussion and will miss some games, and fair’s fair. And with no punishment at all, World Peace won’t learn anything at all. As powerful as adrenaline can be, most players learn to control it at least a little, even when they make baskets far prettier than World Peace’s.

World Peace needs to learn self-control, and the NBA must hammer that home with some kind of suspension. But this isn’t the Pacers-Pistons fight. It was a freak moment in which an overzealous and overly enthusiastic player let loose at exactly the wrong time. It doesn’t deserve an extended suspension.

Five games would be acceptable. Maybe even 10. But anything more than that just shows that no matter what good he does – he won the league’s citizenship award last year – World Peace will never be free of Artest’s crimes. He’ll always be the same headcase, always be a threat to explode and hurt someone and/or damage the league’s image, always be one strike away from once again feeling the NBA’s wrath.

And that’s a punishment far worse than any suspension could ever be.

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