An Elbow’s Intent: Metta World Peace, Apologies, and the Truth
“. . . it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unintentional elbow.”
First, what Metta World Peace did to James Harden in today’s Thunder-Lakers game is wrong.
He had just made an emphatic dunk, with two electric blue jerseys draped all over him. Then he unleashed his emotions, pounding his chest, yelling, screaming, throwing elbows, and in the blink of an eye James Harden fell to the floor in a slow, clumsy spin, World Peace continuing to carouse down the basketball court. In real time, it looked like an accident, as if the gods were mocking Metta World Peace and everything about him–flesh, blood, and synapse–could be boiled down into a moment of cosmic irony. However, slow motion told a different story.
In slow motion, Metta World Peace became Ron Artest. Banner turned Hulk green, and Dr. Jekyll gave way to Mr. Hyde. In a split second, number fifteen went from smiling to grimacing, from pounding his own chest to cocking an elbow and dropping it like a hammer into the back of James Harden’s skull, and as ABC replayed the violent blow again and again, questions flew on Twitter like sparks from an anvil:
Did he mean to do it? Was it an accident? If he meant to do it, did he mean to hit Harden in the head? If it was intentional, was it also criminal? Is he crazy? What would his shrink say? What happened to all of his efforts to rehabilitate himself?
And that last question, along with Harden’s health, is what matters most here. Ron Artest can change his name to Metta World Peace, go years without committing a violent act, become the poster boy of redemption, but he can never be cured of himself or his reputation; and while the situation may not be entirely fair, it is painfully true. While addictions and behavioral disorders require bold acts of forgiveness, they make forgetfulness futile for both the victim and the perpetrator, which in the case of Metta World Peace has almost always been one and the same.
No one can answer why Metta World Peace cold-cocked James Harden, whether it was a get-off me blow or a blow delivered to hurt and maim, just as no one can answer why an alcoholic insists on having one more sip, one more drink, one more night out doing the very things that are detrimental to an individual’s livelihood. All any of us know is that fighting depression is always battling the darkness, that an alcoholic is always confronting their thirst, and that an athlete known for irrational, and often times violent, behavior is always one physical play away from regression.
Since the terrible day at the Palace that transformed Ron Artest from a second tier basketball star into a household villain in the vein of a masked freak who pumps toxins into his bloodstream, almost every basketball fan with a Twitter account has delivered some rendering of the line don’t mess with Artest–he’s crazy. No one should be shocked today that a man with a tendency towards losing his temper on the court, neglecting his dogs, and a long history of abusive relationships (where he has once again played both the victim and the perpetrator) finally lost his temper once more on the basketball court. In truth, what’s most surprising is that since completing the anger management steps that followed his defining moment Metta World Peace has played in roughly 580 basketball games without anything other than a few harmless exchanges of jawing back and forth or chesting up to other players. This stretch of five and a half seasons with no on the court violence does not necessarily make today’s incident easier to cope with, but it does help to prove that Metta World Peace isn’t quite the unhinged criminal some would make him out to be; and that prior to today positive steps in his life were taken.
I am not terribly outraged, upset, or appalled at Metta World Peace’s elbowing of James Harden, at least I can say that I am no more angry with him than with, say, Kevin Love for stepping on Luis Scola’s face or Ndamukong Suh for his Thanksgiving Day stomping of Evan Dietrich-Smith. These men all play physical games–and two of them are renowned for their physical play–so it is not surprising to see their emotions boil over. I am disappointed in their actions, but not inflamed. I do, however, find their responses to such acts unsettling. Love sprinted down the court as if it was natural to have Scola’s cheekbone between his shoe and the floor. And after the Lions Thanksgiving Day game against the Packers, Suh denied that he even stomped Dietrich-Smith despite video evidence to the contrary, and in the moments following his elbow to Harden, World Peace acted out a similar form of denial. All three failed, when everyone was watching, to demonstrate a raw form of responsibility that was both instinctive and uncoached.
When a friend or a loved one is attempting to make a difficult change in their life, remorse is often a catalyst; however, in the case of many professional athletes the guilt-laden apology often comes ripe with insincerity. Metta World Peace offered up an ill-worded apology after the game, in which he apologized in a manner that implicated Harden’s head just as much as his own elbow, and I find this more perplexing than if he hadn’t said anything at all. It seems to me that in apologizing for the unfortunate sequence of events that put James Harden in the path of his elbow Metta World Peace unraveled his own story and possibly his own abilities to truly deal with his anger. In all of his development and efforts to grow, Metta World Peace’s response to feeling his elbow plow through another human being’s skull, intentional or not, was to keep running down the court, fists pumping, lungs screaming, unable to think outside of the moment, unable to stop and see what his own recklessness had wrought, unable to apologize, which if the elbow had been unintentional would have been the easiest thing to do. Instead, he acted out the part of a comic book fiend on a rampage.
And when the cameras caught Ron Artest explaining himself to the refs, he mimed a timid Tarzan–there was no wildly swung elbow in his explanation of why Harden lay face down on the ground–and whether by omission or delusion, it was clear that Metta World Peace is a man unable to handle the sad truth that, in his life, the shadow of violence is never too far removed from the light of the present.
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