Metta World Peace: Not a 'Surly Moron'
At least, not surly anyway. Drew Magary is one of my favorite writers, but I'm solidly in disagreement with his "Why Did We Ever Think Ron Artest Was Interesting?" Deadspin post.
The gist is that Magary once enjoyed Artest as something of a lovable, genuine goof, and Sunday's elbow on James Harden shattered such illusions. A selection of quotes, below:
- "The reason people like me got suckered was because we always fall for any athlete who, at least on the surface of things, is different from the rest. On the whole, athletes are boring as sh-- when they're not playing their sport, so we feel gratitude when someone, ANYONE, offers up something new."
- "There's no deeper meaning to Ron Artest. He's not that naive, and he's not that interesting. He was NEVER all that interesting."
- "Look past all the stunts and it's clear that Ron Artest isn't really a colorful character. He's not an interesting person. And he's not sympathetic. There's nothing to learn from the life of Ron Artest. Like Arenas, he's just a flaky sh--head. That's the full truth of his being. At his core, he's a boring player—one who can't shoot, can't jump, and can't dribble—with a violent streak who stumbled into making a briefly popular brand out of his own blithering idiocy."
- "He's run out of chances to try and convince the world that he's something other than a surly moron."
While I agree with Drew's thesis that media types have a tendency to over-hype any athlete who seems remotely interesting or different, it's not fair to come to one conclusion about a human being via the TV filter and then to reach a wholly different conclusion by the same means.
The medium is inadequate for showing the totality and complexity of most guys in the league, and MWP is no exception. In short, we don't know these dudes. Even if they act like jackasses on the public stage, that space can be quite compartmentalized, divorced from everything else in their lives.
I did not know what to expect from basketball players when I started interviewing them, I suppose I anticipated they'd be boring, just like Magary posits. After some time, I've reached a different conclusion: People who perform improvisational acts in front of 20,000 fans tend to be damn interesting.
The problem is that we, the media hacks, ask them boring questions. Just try responding to a leading, dull question, see how smart you seem.
If I confronted a renowned chemist with a query like, "So the lab's really coming together, huh?" or "How did it feel to do your job successfully," they would likely respond with vocalized gruel. And this isn't even factoring in how there is immense pressure on athletes not to be interesting. The astute quote can get you publicly scorned or fired. For most basketball players, it pays to be cliche.
Metta World Peace managed to exist outside this boring quote treadmill, and it has worked to his advantage. But I don't believe he goes about it in a cynical fashion. Or, if he does, he combines that strategy with another one: MWP is glowingly kind in an interview setting. Through two years, I've never interviewed a nicer, more patient player. And not just "nice" in the basic sense. I'm talking John Ritter nice—the kind of interview that leaves a person feeling better for having experienced it.
He could still be a bad guy on the balance for all I know. A couple interviews does not make me an expert on the totality of Artest's being, but it's enough to convince me that he's not just any one thing. The fallacy is believing that we know. We don't.
Perhaps, Metta has missed his chance to convince the world that he's something other than a surly moron, but why should I trust a "world" that held a different opinion last week? He's the same guy today and no more understood.
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