I am a fan of the NBA though not of the Los Angeles Lakers.  However after the lockout I was so starved for professional basketball that I even watched the two Laker games that were offered nationally during the last few days. They were both Laker losses incidentally and the announcers and commentators were mostly talking about their decline and Kobe Bryant.  They only talked a little bit about Ron Artest’s name change to Metta World Peace. Now name changes in the NBA go all the way back to Lloyd B. Free’s change to World B. Free in 1981.  More recently in football Chad Johnson changed his last name to Ochocinco to match his uniform number. It certainly made sense for Ron Artest to change his name.  Not only has he become an erstwhile rapper but the name itself has become remembered for a basketball brawl when he went up into the stand after a fan during a Indiana Pacers- Detroit Pistons game. Artest grew up in Queensbridge, New York, went to college at St. John’s University in Queens.  He got a reputation as a tough defensive player and was in fact the NBA defensive player of the year in 2004. There is of course the inevitable racial angle that he was looked at as the stereotypical “angry black man”.  This was never made more clear than in the brawl when he stirred up racial fears by going after a white man who had thrown beer at him.  I don’t want to condone his actions in any way, but only to point out the racial elephant in the room. The NBA didn’t want to stir up fear among its white fan base and punished him severely.

So changing his name made perfect sense. Changing it to Metta World Peace has made the Laker games much more fun than I had anticipated it would. One announcer on the ABC televised game on Sunday referred to how much fun it was to hear the deep voiced arena play by play announcer say “World Peace” from time to time. The on air announcers also had fun with it: “score one for World Peace.” “World Peace enters the game.” “Kobe gives it up to World Peace.” “World Peace is fouled.” The possible puns are endless and I urge you to come up with your own. He is of course the same hard nosed defender he has always been although some skills have inevitably diminished with time. He is to be commended however for making his name now be the opposite of what the old one had become and for making it so enjoyable for the rest of us. Let us enjoy World Peace while we can.

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