It doesn't matter how much time passes—whenever the player currently known as Metta World Peace returns to Detroit, we remember. We remember November 19th, 2004.
We remember where we were watching the game, who told us if we weren't watching, and that feeling of shock and dread in the pit of our stomachs while we watched things spiral out of control. The foul, the reaction, the scorer's table. The cup hitting Artest, how quickly he sprang into action and then into the crowd and the melee itself.
Last week, Grantland writer Jonathan Abrams took us all the way back in a stunning Oral History of that night. Nearly 10 years later, it remains as much of a shame as it was in the dark days that followed. Changing the career paths of everyone involved, we now forever have to think about that night when we look at the career of World Peace. Who could have predicted that a man now going by a name of Metta World Peace was once at the middle of what was the ugliest night the NBA had ever seen?
The Lakers take on the Pistons in Detroit tonight, and World Peace returns to the Palace for the first time since Artest became Metta World Peace. While the irony of the name change will likely come up during the game this evening, what's more remarkable is how things have shaken out for each of the players involved since that night.
Of the 19 players that were listed on the box score for that game, World Peace is the only one to go on to win a championship ring after that night. Dallas Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle won last year with the Mavericks. What are the odds that things would unfold like this? As improbable as this sounds, the shift in World Peace's career has been just as unexpected.
While he has remained the quirky and eccentric player he's always been, choosing to wear jersey number 37 because it represented the number of weeks Michael Jackson's Thriller album had been at the top of the charts, often flexing and kissing his biceps after completing a big play and leaving reporters spellbound at how he sometimes seems to drift into a stream of consciousness spiel, totally disregarding what was asked, he has done much that needs to be commended.
After winning his championship ring in 2010 with the Lakers, World Peace auctioned off the ring, the L.A. Times reported that World Peace donated more than $285,000 to various mental health charities across America. World Peace extended his good deeds to also include animals when he appeared in an ad for PETA.
To bring things full circle from the incident in Detroit, World Peace was presented with the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, an NBA award that is given to a player, trainer or coach who shows outstanding service and dedication to the community. In the summer of 2011, the name change happened as World Peace wanted to take things a bit further.
Why Metta World Peace? Via the L.A. Times he chose Metta because it is a traditional Buddhist word that means loving and kindness toward all.
"Changing my name was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world," World Peace said.
He's come a long way from the embattled player he once was. Ever the enigma, there is a kindness to World Peace that his involvement in the Malice at the Palace threatened to keep away from us. Talking with him, there's an innocence, an unbreakable spirit that shines through everything, even those tough memories that so often get brought up.
When we all stopped thinking about Detroit, the hard-nosed, tenaciously fierce defender from Queensbridge (say Queensbridge!) showed us the vulnerability and, perhaps most importantly, the type of honesty that is rarely seen in professional sports when he became an staunch supporter for those with mental-health issues, speaking with Congress on to advocate for mental-health legislation. It isn't a stretch to say that World Peace is spending some of his down time working to save lives.
That night in Detroit forever changed the landscape of the NBA as we know it. The championship dreams of many were put on hold or fell to the wayside, it changed how the NBA was viewed, how athletes were viewed, to some extent.
Nothing that World Peace does moving forward can change that. If we use World Peace's yearly visit to the Palace to remember the ugly, let's also remember the redemption of the man formerly known as Ron Artest and what it teaches us all. History can never be erased, but the future is ours to create.
It's never too late to make things right. World Peace is aiming for good. Even when he returns to Detroit.
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