Two years ago during the Thunder-Laker playoff series, I got to chat with Ron Artest (this was before the name change). Just the two of us. I wrote about Artest’s efforts to change his bad-boy image. You can read that column here.
Artest, now Metta World Peace, laid those efforts in ruin Sunday in Los Angeles, where his vicious elbow, not in the flow of play, sent the Thunder’s James Harden to the floor with a concussion. Harden’s status remains unknown, and really, so does Metta World Chaos’.
A player with a rap sheet like Chaos’ will draw a hefty penalty from NBA commissioner David Stern. Some say five games, some say 10, some say more. But Stern has a problem. Whatever penalty he selects, he knows it’s fully punitive. Knows the penalty’s full effects will be the harm it does to the Lakers and to Chaos personally. None of the penalty will be rehabilitative.
Chaos has shown himself to be unchangeable. His repeated outbursts, notably the brawl in Auburn Hills, Mich., that gave the NBA perhaps its worst black eye ever, have reached the point where we now know for certain that Chaos will erupt. Kobe Bryant can call him “sweet.” I can spend five minutes with him and declare that the league’s bad boy has mellowed in his old age. But now we know that the Artest formerly known as Ron will explode. The only variable is time.
Which is why Stern faces a dilemma. Punishment won’t serve as a deterrent. Artest once was suspended for 73 games, yet his ways haven’t changed. Just as imprisonment hasn’t scared off some criminals from committing crimes, suspensions have no effect on Chaos.
How should I say this? Metta World Chaos is a kook. Not a kook in the way your brother-in-law is a kook. A kook in the clinical sense. There’s a wiring issue. Chaos is a stranger in a stranger land. He doesn’t fit, even in the surreal culture of the NBA. How is Stern to discipline someone who really doesn’t respond to discipline? The only answer is banishment. And Stern doesn’t want to banish Chaos. I don’t want Stern to banish Chaos. Heck, James Harden doesn’t Stern to banish Chaos. The NBA is a more interesting place with Chaos.
Of course, a stiff suspension could be a deterrent to other NBA players. Just because Chaos doesn’t get it doesn’t mean right-thinking players wouldn’t give pause. The NBA is dealing with a couple of hot-button issues — the concussion frenzy that envelopes all sports, plus the flagrant fouls, which seem to be accelerating.
So Stern could use the mugging of Harden to spread the word that he is intent on keeping the NBA’s streets safe. Just as long as he knows the penalty will have little bearing on Metta World Chaos himself.