It marks an end of sorts for the Lakers, as the team's free-spending ways have finally run up against the collective bargaining agreement in a way that produced a real victim. If not for the looming tax penalty, World Peace would almost certainly be suiting up for the Purple and Gold next year.
Without getting too sentimental, MWP is still going to collect his money, after all, now seems like a good time to go back through the treasure trove of quotable quips and memorable moments of World Peace's time with the Lakers.
Buckle up; it's gonna get weird.
The Legend of the Shower
Most of the time, the details of courtship between teams and players are mundane. There's usually a phone call between the team and the player's representation, followed by a meeting and an eventual contract offer.
But as the Lakers would come to find out, nothing involving World Peace (or, as he was known until 2011, Ron Artest) would ever be mundane.
The story is already something of a legend, and its origins as a CBS news piece have gradually faded into Internet obscurity, but there's still a remarkable transcript of an interview Phil Jackson did with KLAC 570 in Los Angeles over at SportsRadioInterviews.com:
Last year after the devastating loss in Game 6 to the Boston Celtics, Ron Artest came in our locker and walked in the shower with Kobe Bryant. Kobe’s there taking a shower—and this is a locker room the coaches have, it’s off limits—so, Ron said, ‘Coach, I can help your team, I can get that championship for the Lakers.’ I said, ‘Well, thanks Ron, that’s very nice, I appreciate your sympathies. We’ll see what happens as you go through this year.’ Then, he walked out of that coaches’ area, and in to the shower and told Kobe the same thing. Kobe’s been knowing Ron’s intentions for the last two years… He didn’t soap down Kobe and he didn’t towel him off, I’m not saying that.
With a shower confrontation as the first step toward Artest joining the Lakers, you had to expect things would only get stranger and more entertaining as the relationship blossomed.
The Number 37
When the Lakers swung the deal to acquire Artest in July 2009, the team and its fans got their first glimpse into the unusual mind they'd eventually come to love. Artest had already worn Nos. 93 and 96 in his career, so it shouldn't have seemed particularly odd that he opted to wear No. 37 as a Laker. At first, it seemed like a move toward normalcy.
But then he revealed the reason behind his pick, per Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo!:
Because Ron Ron apparently owns a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records, he knows that Jackson's Thriller album stayed on top of the pop charts for exactly 37 weeks in the early 1980s. And because he just signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, he gets to choose a new number. And because Kareem, Wilt, Magic and Jerry West never wore the number 37, Artest chose the number 37.
As a tribute to Michael Jackson. By pointing out the number of weeks Thriller stayed at the top of the charts. Oh-kay.
That's right; Artest saw fit to sport a jersey number in honor of the King of Pop. You were warned that this trip down memory lane would be weird.
Artest's first season with the Lakers could hardly have gone better. Individually, it's possible that Artest could have provided more than 11.1 points per game on 41 percent shooting in 2009-10, but the Lakers secured the championship that year.
So overall, Artest's initial campaign was a rousing success.
And in the aftermath of his first NBA title, Artest offered fans one of his most endearing attributes: his unflinching honesty.
By thanking his psychiatrist, Artest showed gratitude. But at the same time, he displayed a fearless authenticity that the buttoned-up, PR-savvy NBA rarely allows. He was a man who had suffered through hell early in his career, largely due to legitimate psychological issues that resulted in violence and frightening unpredictability.
But in his greatest moment of triumph, he was human, relatable and totally real. As much as anything, that's what Lakers fans will remember.
Good Times at Press Conferences
That last bit got a little heavy. Fortunately, after that on-court interview, Artest graced the podium in one of the oddest, most jubilant postgame press conferences in NBA history. There weren't really any questions and Artest's answers jumped all over the place, but I'm pretty sure the main bullet points involved Wheaties, Kobe passing him the ball and a delightful desire for dudes on laptops to acknowledge his presence.
How can you beat that?
Lakers fans are probably bummed that there weren't more titles during the Artest era, but not because they were hoping to add to the team's legacy of winning. All anyone really wanted was another presser like this one.
Artest Out, World Peace In
Though he'd been talking about it for months, Artest officially changed his name to Metta World Peace on Sept. 16, 2011.
According to MWP, the new moniker came about because of a combination of his self-professed silliness and his desire to bring the youth of the world together (or something like that). You can watch him explain his rationale in a pretty disjointed interview with TMZ.com here:
That wasn't particularly enlightening, was it?
But if you watched closely, there was a nice little gem in there. World Peace said, "I didn't tell my wife. She called me up and said, 'What is this? I hope you don't think I'm changing my name.'"
Of course World Peace would take the drastic step of changing his name without telling his wife. That makes perfect sense. To him, it's really no big deal.
It's precisely that sort of disconnect from the expectations of normal people that made following MWP so much fun.
At Your Service
A lot of players have clashed with Bryant over the years because they aren't willing to buy into the notion that No. 24 is supposed to be the unquestioned alpha dog on the Lakers.
It's fair to question whether or not Bryant's primacy has been good for the Lakers lately, but things always went smoothly between World Peace and Bryant precisely because MWP knew how to appreciate the chain of command.
In a locker room interview on Dec. 31, 2011, World Peace summed up his place in the Lakers hierarchy with a succinct analogy:
Let's run down what we've got here. There's humor, a penchant for monarchic metaphors, humility and the acknowledgment that Artest—a wholly distinct alter ego—wouldn't have stood for being a measly servant.
Trying to digest even the briefest sound bites from World Peace was always an exercise in deep critical analysis. And it was always enjoyable.
The Return of Ron-Ron
Although World Peace might have adopted a new name, the world learned on April 22, 2012 that Ron Artest wasn't gone forever.
MWP threw down a dunk in a regular season game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and as he roared back up the court, he caught James Harden with a vicious elbow to the side of the head. In most other cases, it would have been reasonable to assume that the play was an accident.
But because of World Peace's history, that assumption was impossible. Nonetheless, MWP gave a very telling quote to ESPN's Dave McMenamin:
During that play I just dunked on (Kevin) Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and I got really emotional and excited and it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unintentional elbow. I hope he's OK. The Thunder, they're playing for a championship this year, so I hope that he's OK and I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden.
You know, it was such a great game and it was unfortunate so much emotion was going on at that time...That's it for today.
There's a lot going on in that statement. World Peace adopts some passive language, meaning he's either convinced that it was an accident, or he's savvy enough to know that he ought to act as though it was.
Plus, there's really no hint of anger here. His apology seems genuine. So even though Artest showed up for a couple of seconds during the game, World Peace seemed to be in total control afterward.
Mistakes, vulnerability and contrition were also hallmarks of MWP's time as a Laker.
We'll wrap things up here with a couple of World Peace's best knee-slappers. First, he switched gears from taking blame for a poor Lakers performance to hurling a barb toward then-coach Mike Brown with perfect comedic timing:
And then he explained his impossibly quick return from meniscus surgery with an appropriately bizarre refrain:
World Peace's days as a Laker are done, but thanks to the truly unusual legacy he left behind, nobody in Los Angeles will ever forget him. So the next time you listen to Thriller or worry that you might be too sexy for your own cat, think of MWP and smile.