15 Thoughts on Metta World Peace's Elbow

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Metta World Peace

Following a dunk against the Thunder, Lakers small forward Metta World Peace turned to run back up the court, beating his chest in excitement and, without provocation, struck Thunder guard James Harden’s head with his elbow. World Peace was ejected, and Harden, suffering a concussion, was unable to return.

  1. The elbow to the back of James Harden’s head was intentional. There’s no denying it.
  2. There should be a distinction between how we look at the incident from a disciplinarian stance versus that from a sociological/psychological one. The punishment handed out by the NBA should take into account only the game that produced the incident, but for discussion’s sake it’s necessary to use MWP’s history — at least what we have access to — for context.
  3. Allow me to generalize briefly: Hostile acts on the basketball court – pushing, clothes-lining – result from either chippy behavior that’s been mounting through the game or a history of rivalry preceding it; X does y to Z, and Z, in retaliation, does y+1 to X. What happened between MWP and Harden was outside of this “logical” trajectory of physical play. The elbow strike erupted in a near-vacuum, and while we make allowances for competitive men letting their emotions intrude, the lack of a quick and easy explanation in this instance will probably lead to its classification as a cheap shot.
  4. In today’s world of coddled sports stars, it’s laughable to look at Metta World Peace trying to convince the referee, Gary Zielinksi, that the incident was just a byproduct of celebration. Watching the hit in slow motion becomes painfully embarrassing. Following him from the dunk to a slow retreat in the backcourt, as if shocked by his own actions, it’s evident that MWP isn’t processing his behavior in a way one is normally expected to. We all wear socially-acceptable masks to navigate our jobs, neighborhoods, daily interactions. The name change from Ron Artest to Metta World Peace is a much more determined and visible commitment to this mask; a conscious and public attempt to distance himself from a troubled past; an obvious symbolization of wanting to move away from Hennessy binges at halftime, multiple elbows and ejections from games, and the Malice at the Palace. The instant jokes have been made – “Metta World Peace looking a little bit like Ron Artest”. Despite the fear of treading dangerous water here, there’s something worth looking into in that joke. An outburst of energy triggered by achievement — weaving through several gifted basketball players to dunk the ball — briefly caused MWP’s tamed mask to slip, exposing a disturbing identity he’s been working hard to bury.
  5. Of Mice and Men a memoir by Metta World Peace.
  6. The dunk is the most definite way a player can exert his dominance on the basketball court.
  7. The announcer says “Oh no” in an almost monotone voice, bordering on fear, as Serge Ibaka approaches MWP. The camera shows very few words – if any – coming from MWP. Instead, he stares Ibaka down with wide eyes and grabs at his crotch.
  8. MWP walks around the backcourt, catching his breath, and collects himself. He then approaches Zielinski to plead his case.
  9. While there’s no way to remove the blame, I argue that MWP wasn’t aware of his own actions as they were happening. Some basic-level instincts seem to have driven his behavior, causing him to continue proclaiming his dominance after the dunk. To be clear, this isn’t a lazy discussion on race – a white man trying to make sense of a black man’s behavior – but rather a look at a human accessing a part of him that’s been suppressed for some time; a part of him that potentially lies dormant in our genetic make-up, waiting to activate under the proper conditions. When he’s telling Zielinksi the elbow was unintentional, surely MWP believes he’s telling the truth. The man coming down from the dunk was not MWP, and the man staring with fire at Ibaka was not MWP. Rather, his carefully healed self only resurfaced once he allowed himself to walk away: the MWP that has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to mental health research, that thanked his doctor immediately after winning an NBA championship, that has acknowledged the brain as a tricky organ he might need help navigating (a rarity for men, let alone a professional male athlete).
  10. The social and psychological context is not information necessary to make a decision on how to discipline him.
  11. When one player harms another, the victim’s teammates typically stand up for him. Later, quotes from involved parties tend to be petty and attacking in nature. The elbow, instead, produced only confusion and distress with an underlying sentimentality. There was jawing from both sides following the incident, but there was no immediate charging of players in the patterns we are most accustomed to. Ibaka squared off MWP, sure, but there was a noticeable distance between them, as if Ibaka was fulfilling his to duty protect his teammate while still in certain shock of what just happened. And the quotes from the other players and coaches suggest a similar response. There is the agreed shunning of the act paired with disappointment and a weakening of faith. Here is a man who has worked so hard to mend his troubled self, and now his fellow players were put in brief shock at having to process whether or not MWP was regressing.
  12. The comments sections of news articles – no matter the outlet – is a scary place to find oneself.
  13. When MWP was twelve he witnessed the gruesome murder of a 19 year-old boy on a basketball court. At a Y.M.C.A.-sponsored tournament, a fight broke out amongst two teams and supporting fans. Throughout the course of the fight, a leg was detached from the scorer’s table and used to stab Lloyd Newton in the back. Again, we don’t excuse the Harden elbow, but for personal inquiry it is necessary to explore all of MWP.
  14. The friend who first put me onto the importance of Metta World Peace was the first to really get me into Old Dirty Bastard.
  15. The playoffs just got more interesting.