Three months after he changed his name and went sashaying across a ballroom floor on national television, Metta World Peace has stepped back into a familiar role.
Dancing with strange thoughts.
Take his view on all the trade rumors involving the Lakers: “I’ve been more focused on the Herman Cain presidential campaign this year,” he said. “I want some Godfather’s Pizza.”
Then there’s his opinion on teammate Lamar Odom being traded to the Dallas Mavericks: “Honestly, I don’t even know what happened. I just woke up and I had some beans this morning and I read something, but I don’t believe everything I read.”
And finally, there’s his response to a reporter who inquired about some teammates calling him Ron and others Metta: “Well, I’m just happy that Jesus Christ, um, did not let me lose my teeth when I was 20 years old.”
For better or worse, the Lakers are preparing for another season of World Peace being the player formerly known as Ron Artest. The veteran small forward has a new role to go with his new name, coming off the bench after starting 721 of his 763 NBA games, including every game he has played in two seasons with the Lakers.
Now he’ll start games sitting next to Jason Kapono and Steve Blake.
Apparently, World Peace is willing to not only say but also do anything.
“We’re just trying to win a championship,” he said, “so that’s all that matters.”
World Peace said he expected his production to increase despite taking on what some might consider a diminished role. Playing with the second-teamers, he reasoned, will allow him to post up his 6-foot-6 frame more and become a bigger scoring threat.
“There’s a chance I could get back to normal here,” he said.
The trends suggest otherwise. World Peace’s scoring has dropped precipitously in each of the last three seasons, from 17.1 points a game in the 2008-09 season with Houston to 11.0 points in his first season with the Lakers to a career-low 8.5 points last season.
World Peace pinned his statistical decline on playing alongside so many capable scorers since joining the Lakers and struggling to adapt to the triangle offense.
If nothing else, things could have a more familiar feel this season. World Peace, 32, has been reunited with first-year Lakers Coach Mike Brown, an assistant in Indiana when World Peace played for the Pacers early in his career.
“A lot of the things we did in Indiana are similar to what we’re trying to do now,” Brown said, “so I don’t see any problems with him.”
World Peace is eager to prove himself to Brown beyond points and rebounds. The player who punched a fan during the Palace Brawl in 2004 and admitted to drinking cognac during games when he played for the Chicago Bulls said he wanted “to kind of redeem myself from those immature years.”
Distancing himself from those offenses was part of the impetus for World Peace’s name change, which became official in September after a 30-second hearing inside Los Angeles Superior Court. His new first name is a Buddhist term that means loving kindness and friendliness toward others.
“He was getting away from the person that he’s seen as possibly being evil in his life, so he made the name change to start a new path,” said Lakers assistant Chuck Person, a longtime confidant. “Hopefully, this path will be a more consistent path and he can be the person he always wanted to be.”
World Peace wore a jersey reflecting the name change during the lockout so he could experience what it felt like to assume his new identity on the court. A few days ago, he heard Lakers public-address announcer Lawrence Tanter bellow “Metta World Peeeeace!” for the first time during an intrasquad scrimmage.
Not that every Lakers player or coach can always remember whom they’re addressing.
“Everybody’s calling me Ron,” said World Peace, adding that he didn’t mind.
Harder to hear was what the judges said about him during his September cameo on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
Head judge Len Goodman described World Peace’s cha-cha-cha routine with partner Peta Murgatroyd as “all sizzle and no sausage” and said the footwork was “atrocious.” The duo’s debut performance would also be its last, with viewers refusing to override the judges with their votes.
Though it might have seemed like just another look-at-me moment for the bare-chested World Peace, who wore a glittering gold vest and shaved the Hebrew words for “world peace” into the side of his head, his appearance belied a deeper meaning.
He was competing to raise money and awareness for the Cancer Research Foundation because his daughter Diamond had battled a kidney tumor when she was 4.
It was the latest in a string of charitable endeavors by the player who once appeared before Congress to discuss mental health awareness and raffled off his NBA title ring to raise $600,000 for the same cause. In April, he won an NBA citizenship award.
That’s not to say the messages of World Peace are always clear. On the first day of training camp, he talked about being out of shape after taking two months off and drinking martinis during the lockout. Two days later, he was bragging about his abs.
Person said those who don’t give World Peace a chance because of his tendency to ramble are missing out.
“Sometimes when we don’t understand somebody, it creates a sense of fear in people,” Person said. “And I think Metta sometimes comes across like that because people don’t understand him.
“But Metta is one of the best and most giving people I’ve ever been around and probably too much. He gives of himself to anyone that asks because Metta believes in people and helping the soul of a person and that’s where people lose the message that he tries to portray.”