When the NBA suspends Metta World Peace in the coming days, this writer hopes the league resists the urge to cave into public pressure and does what they are suppose to: carefully evaluate the incident and its context.
We know what happened by now. World Peace celebrates a rare dunk, gets caught up and then elbows James Harden, giving him a concussion. We've seen replay after replay, tweets with a wide spectrum of opinion and talking heads on ESPN and websites show their disgust with it.
It was a terrible play that deserves a suspension. There is no arguing that. Yet the problem in discussing the elbow is that people still act like this is 2004 and World Peace is the Ron Artest of old who was a loose cannon by his own admission.
The league will no doubt factor his history in his punishment. But that history must include how over the past three to four seasons, he has become a model citizen and rehabilitated his image in a way that few could have predicted. They must consider how he took time out from his championship press conference to apologize to the Indiana Pacers and thank his psychiatrist.
They must consider that World Peace is popular among his peers and the most recent winner of the NBA's Citizenship Award for his work with mental health awareness. And yes, they must also consider that he was suspended for a game in last year's playoffs for a forearm to JJ Barea.
The NBA and its fans (casual and die hard) must also come to grips that the Malice at the Palace was eight years ago. As ugly as that night was for the NBA, Jonathan Abrams' brilliant recap of it at Grantland reminds us that enough time has passed for us to move on without being haunted by it. How fair is it to punish someone with a heavy hand that's weighted only by an ugly incident and not recent events?
I've seen people say World Peace should be suspended for 10 games or the entire postseason. I've seen people say he's out of control, as if he's been lying to us the past few seasons with his behavior and attitude. I've even seen some fans say he should be kicked out of the league.
To them I ask one question. If anybody else had delivered that elbow to Harden, would you call for the same punishment? If not, then ask yourself why the brawl at the Palace has kept you from considering World Peace's current rehabilitation?
For comparison's sake, the elbow that Andrew Bynum delivered to JJ Barea in last year's playoffs was far more dangerous (since Barea was in the air) and Bynum received five games. Karl Malone's cheap shot to Isiah Thomas in 1991 gave Thomas 40 stitches and produced a chilling sound that reverberates when you hear it on replays.
These same people probably assume World Peace's post-game apology was contrived as well. Nevermind that it fits in line with how more self-aware he is and how he has matured from his days of rebelling against coaches, drinking in the locker room and leaping into the stands.
Overreactions are a part of sports culture today. Legacies grow and die with every game. Talking heads shout and scream their opinions to make them more important. It's a reminder that common sense, calm dialogue and rational thinking are slowly becoming abnormal instead of what we expect from fans and especially the media.
It's very easy to get caught up in your emotions when you see something ugly happen in sports. Which is why those who mete out punishment have to step back and consider the incident, the on-court context, the attitude afterwards, the injuries involved and more.
If World Peace was the same Ron Artest from eight years ago, then I would have no problem with the league sending a message. But considering how the league, World Peace and most of us have grown as people since 2004, the punishment must be careful.
My suggestion? Five games. Otherwise, we are punishing him based on his distant past, not the present. And if his elbow was no worse than Bynum's, then the punishment should be the same. Plain and simple.
The hit that World Peace delivered was ugly and deserves no defense. I sincerely hope that James Harden, who should win Sixth Man of the Year, is okay for the postseason. Yet it's even uglier seeing how long people want him to be punished based on how he acted eight years ago as if that's all his reputation is now.