Metta World Peace of the Los Angeles Lakers may face a National Basketball Association suspension into the playoffs after elbowing Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden in the side of the head.
World Peace, who legally changed his name from Ron Artest last year, was ejected after drawing a flagrant 2 foul for the incident during the second quarter of the Lakers’ 114-106 double-overtime win yesterday. All flagrant fouls are reviewed by the NBA to determine if a suspension is warranted.
World Peace, 32, was pounding his chest with his right hand while celebrating a dunk when he raised his left arm across his face and then swung it back, elbowing Harden in the ear. Harden fell to the floor and held the side of his head as play was stopped for several minutes. Harden didn’t return to the game.
“Once you follow through, you’re meaning to do it,” former Lakers Hall of Fame guard Magic Johnson, now an NBA analyst, said on ESPN. “It’s a shame.”
The Lakers, who lead the Western Conference’s Pacific Division with a 41-24 record, have one regular season game left -- on April 26 at Sacramento -- before the playoffs begin.
The latest incident involving World Peace marred a win against a Thunder team that’s tied with the Miami Heat for the NBA’s third-best record.
The 6-foot-6 World Peace in 2004 ran into the stands and started a brawl with Detroit Pistons fans while playing for the Indiana Pacers. He was suspended for a total of 86 games -- the final 73 of the regular season and another 13 in the playoffs.
World Peace, who was also banned for the first seven games of the 2007-08 season after pleading no contest to spousal abuse, a year ago received the NBA’s citizenship award for his efforts to promote mental-health awareness. He’s averaging 7.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in his third season with the Lakers, who won NBA titles after the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
World Peace apologized to Harden and the Thunder after the game, saying the elbow was unintentional and that he was caught up in the emotion of dunking on Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
“The Thunder, they’re playing for a championship this year, so I really hope that he’s OK,” World Peace told reporters in the Lakers’ locker room. “I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden. Such a great game and it was unfortunate so much emotion was going on at that time.”