With one errant (and ill-advised) swing of his left elbow to the head of James Harden, Metta World Peace conjured up latent memories of Ron Artest, of his part in the "Malice at the Palace" and of fouls—both technical and flagrant—during subsequent stops with the Sacramento Kings and the Houston Rockets.
It'd be easy to look at that track record of fines, suspensions and ejections and conclude that the Basketball Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest deserves to have the book thrown at him for potentially concussing the Oklahoma City Thunder's third-best player, intentionally or not.
Especially after Harden's absence allowed the Los Angeles Lakers to creep back into the game and ultimately win in double overtime, 114-106.
But to do so would ignore context, precedent and long-standing efforts at self-reform, which the NBA powers-that-be may very well do.
Metta's misgivings during his days with the Indiana Pacers—the ones that saw him go into the stands and duke it out with a fan on the way to an 86-game suspension—are seven-and-a-half years in the rear view.
In 2006, Artest, then with the Kings, jammed his elbow into the noggin of Manu Ginobili, the San Antonio Spurs' version of Harden, in Game 2 of a Western Conference Quarterfinal series. That move cost Artest but a single game for a similar move.
Granted, the league's standards have changed considerably since then in light of new science surrounding head injuries.
Even then, you could point to Kevin Love's two-game suspension for stomping on Luis Scola's head (albeit with less than full force) as a similarly egregious example of flagrancy, though one not seen by millions of fans on national television.
This all isn't to say that what World Peace did wasn't wrong or that he doesn't deserve to sit out multiple games. Clearly, that sort of contact has no place in the game, intentional or not, and must be punished in some form or fashion.
There's no clear intent, per se, though there's plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest that World Peace had at least some idea of what he was doing. As Ken Berger of CBSSports.com points out, World Peace appeared to wind up his arm before walloping Harden's head and doesn't exactly stop with any manner of surprise after he realizes that he's just hit someone.
So if the league wants to reprimand Ron-Ron for his foolish move because of its fear of concussions and because of what it meant in the moment, so be it.
But if the NBA is intent to cast World Peace back into the role of heel for things he did three (with the Rockets, vs. the Lakers), six (with the Kings, vs. the Spurs) or even seven years ago (with the Pacers, vs. the Pistons) then it would do so at the peril of its own precedent and recognition of a man who's done much to rehabilitate himself and his image in recent years.
In any case, the Lakers will miss World Peace's toughness, especially on the defensive end, for however long the league decides to hold him out.