NEW YORK — Heddrick McBride still calls it "the best days of NYC hoops."
From 1994 to 1996, during a peak of New York City high school basketball, McBride and Ron Artest helped lead La Salle Academy to a 44-7 record over two varsity seasons, including a place in the Top 25 of national rankings. They also competed on Queens-born and former NBA player Kenny Smith's prestigious AAU team, Aim High.
One special moment for McBride came in 1995-96, when he and Artest were named co-MVPs of their high school team. From there, McBride, who is one year older at 34, went on to play at Morgan State, while Artest, now known as Metta World Peace, became one of the top defensive players in the NBA and a league champion in 2010 with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now, 17 years later, the longtime friends have teamed up together again—this time as co-writers for World Peace's first children's book in a series, Metta's Bedtime Stories. The aim of the book, which is designed in the New York Knicks' blue and orange colors, is to "show readers how to have a better day tomorrow with a hopeful heart and positive thoughts."
That message inside the book's cover was inspired by McBride, who has, remarkably, published 21 children's books in the past 18 months. With Metta's Bedtime Stories, he wanted to raise awareness for World Peace's community work and clouded public perception.
"I had the thought to let him show people his good side—his human side—because a lot of people don't know him or only know him for the (NBA) brawl (in November 2004) and negative things," McBride told Bleacher Report this past week at a signing for the book at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble in New York City. "I also saw that he had the foundation (Xcel University) geared towards mental health, so I thought that was really cool. We wanted to uplift kids, inspire kids. And what's the best way to read to a younger kid? Bedtime stories."
World Peace, who changed his name from Ron Artest in September 2011 in an effort to encourage dialogue in place of physical violence and promote good will toward all, said it was "impactful" to work with McBride. World Peace called the writing and editing process "unique," as it was the most fun and challenging project he's worked on for kids.
"This is a collaborative effort of Heddrick realizing that I've been giving back to communities for a long time," World Peace said at the book signing. "He's trying to become a lawyer; he majored in political science. So it's a great thing for both of us in our career. He's in a transition and I'm in a transition. We've got a chance to kind of pause, take a break and do something for some kids."
Now that the Queensbridge-born World Peace has returned to New York, he's had a chance to reflect more on two local heroes who influenced his life off the court.
One is Hank Carter—"A big-time role model," he said—who has served paraplegic and quadriplegic patients for more than 30 years and started the Wheelchair Charities Basketball Classic. And the other is the late Ernest Lorch—"An amazing guy," World Peace said—who was the founder of the acclaimed Riverside Church basketball program to help underprivileged kids.
World Peace has taken a page from Carter and Lorch's generosity and carved his own path, organizing foundation work involving AIDS, cancer, at-risk youth, humanitarian aid and animal rights. For his next books in his series, World Peace is planning a tribute to Hurricane Sandy in October, a Father's Day-themed publication next year and a story about some of his family members who have had mental illnesses.
While World Peace has been through many ups and downs in his 14-year career, he now feels a sense of closure to his past struggles and ready for a new beginning back home.
"I feel better. I think I learned a lot," he said. "I think I learned how to deal with rough situations, I learned how to deal with emotions, I learned how to deal with adversity and I also learned things are bigger than what they may seem. Now I'm at a point now where you just focus every day, and there's a bigger picture than just a 14-year career."
Bigger Picture with the Knicks
On the court, World Peace envisions a greater offensive role in his first season in New York. Whether or not he's starting—he said he's fine with coming off the bench—he's ready to prove that his statistical decreases since 2009 are not a sign of wear and tear.
"With me, it's pretty simple," he said. "When I left Houston (in '09), I was averaging (17.1) points. The year I got to LA, I was averaging 11 points. I won a championship, which I was happy about. And the next year, I was averaging (more than eight) and then (more than) 12. I was playing with a great team and I deferred and sacrificed.
"I'm still going to defer and sacrifice, but I think I might have more of a breakout season. People forgot that before I got to L.A., I was a 20-point scorer a night. I'll remind people," he said, smiling.
While it's unlikely World Peace will be the first or second option in most half-court sets, his effective corner three-point shooting—about 38 percent in 2012-13—will come in handy in Mike Woodson's spread-out offense. He could also find scoring opportunities inside, as the team is lacking interior size, and it will need consistent rebounders for its jump-shooting system. He has plenty of muscle at 6'7", 260 pounds to do the dirty work, along with the necessary hustle, energy and a willingness to play a physical brand of basketball.
In addition, because of his finishing skills, solid speed in the open court and ability to lead a breakaway, World Peace should likely capitalize on more transition opportunities. Last season, the Knicks ranked dead last in fast-break points per game (8.8), and Woodson has talked about wanting to change that in 2013-14.
The key with World Peace, however, will continue to be his defense. That will especially be true this upcoming season, as the Knicks look to relieve some pressure on Carmelo Anthony, who's asked to do so much offensively. That's why many insiders think World Peace should start at small forward, alongside Anthony, and then tag team to finish games.
"Playing with Melo is going to be great. I'm excited," World Peace said. "I knew he shot a lot, but I knew there was just something different about him, about how his teammates reacted to him. Everybody has flaws I believe—even Melo has some flaws—but he's a good person, which is his strength. I'm just blessed to be in a situation with a star player who's strength is being a good person, and he's an All-Star."
World Peace knows the Knicks will have to "bring it every night" with the upgraded competition in the Eastern Conference—one he's used to for grind-out basketball—and he's "looking forward to it." So are his longtime friends, including McBride, who will finally get to see him play live regularly at Madison Square Garden—14 years since the Knicks passed over him in the NBA draft.
"We feel like it's a fairy-tale end to a career," McBride said. "He's a hometown hero, went to St. John's, won the city championship in high school. He always gives back whenever he comes to the city, so now for him to come full circle, come home, possibly win a championship—it's like a storybook ending."