It's said that it takes years to build a reputation and seconds to destroy it. It's been eight years since the Malice at the Palace, the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl that forever ingrained Ron Artest as a violent, unstable player in the mind of fans.
After serving a season-long suspension (the remaining 86 games), the man formerly known as Ron Artest underwent an intense, lengthy rehabilitation process that changed him.
He became a better person, much more in control of his emotions and his reactions. It appeared that he had overcome his demons and would no longer be the man that so many remember from his earlier years. There were plenty of situations where he could have had violent outbursts, but they never happened. World Peace managed to reign in in anger and kept his composure.
After undergoing therapy, seeking professional help and giving so much back to his community, he had turned a corner. He underwent a change that culminated with him changing his name to "Metta World Peace," a name that, while seemingly a joke to many, represented a change within him, something so personal and intimate that ultimately only he would understand.
He became a better teammate, and generally likable. Sure, he had his outrageous moments, such as when he was stopped in Los Angeles for driving what appeared to be a race car. But these moments were never malicious, they were simply unusual.
There was no intent to harm others, no violence, no insults, nothing that would be considered damaging to others. He played with toughness and intensity, but he played to win, never to harm others.
But that all changed this Sunday. On April 22, at approximately 4:40 p.m. EST, the league witnessed something that it had not seen in almost eight years. It was a vivid image that reminded many of one of the most violent and regrettable incidents in NBA history.
In an emotional outburst after making a dunk, World Peace proceeded to elbow Harden on the head, dropping him to the floor. It was a shocking sight, violent, uncontrolled and, for Metta World Peace, unprecedented.
But it happened, and after so many years of making drastic changes in his life, and playing some of the best basketball he had been playing in recent months, World Peace appeared to revert to his old self. Though his jersey read "World Peace," the man wearing it was none other than the old Ron Artest.
The same Artest who fought against the Pistons, the fans and his own teammates. The same Artest who served a suspension, who was emotionally unstable and who could honestly be described as dangerous.
It was a player the league had not seen for eight years, and a player the league hoped would never be seen again. But for a few minutes, he came back, making an unfortunate appearance that will not be forgotten any time soon, and those few minutes were much, much longer than anyone would have wanted to see him.
World Peace was promptly ejected from the game, and justifiably so. There is no place for such behavior in the NBA. And while there have been other violent outbursts by other players (such as fellow Laker Andrew Bynum's playoff foul against then-Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea), no other player has the dreaded reputation World Peace does.
A suspension will surely follow, and in all honestly, it should. If not the foul itself, the suspension should remind World Peace that there's a precedent for this type of behavior from him, that there are people who never truly forgot or forgave what he did.
It is extremely disappointing that after putting forth so much effort into his self-improvement, rehabilitating both himself and his image, he had to partake in such a violent incident. For the rest of the season, including the playoffs, teams, coaches and fans alike will be apprehensive of World Peace, nervous as to what he might do and how he could hurt the team.
No matter what he says, or what he does, there will be a lingering fear that he might react like he did vs. the Thunder. And that fear is something that will haunt World Peace for a long time, just like it did so long ago.
His reputation as a renovated and improved man has been shattered, and despite the fact that he will try to show that this was nothing more than a weak moment of uninhibited behavior, very few will believe him.
For a few seconds, Metta World Peace reverted to the old Ron Artest, and those seconds destroyed what eight years managed to accomplish.