The Los Angeles Lakers will begin the playoffs without starting forward Metta World Peace, who was suspended seven games without pay by the National Basketball Association for elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden in the head and giving him a concussion.
World Peace, who legally changed his name from Ron Artest last year, was thrown out of the Lakers’ 114-106 double-overtime win against the Thunder on April 22 following the incident, which led to a flagrant 2 foul.
World Peace, 32, was pounding his chest with his right hand after a dunk when he raised his left arm across his face and then swung it back, elbowing Harden near 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, and did not play last night against the Sacramento Kings.
“The concussion suffered by James Harden demonstrates the danger posed by violent acts of this kind, particularly when they are directed at the head area,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement released last night by the league. “We remain committed to taking necessary measures to protect the safety of NBA players, including the imposition of appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations.”
The suspension will begin with the Lakers’ game tomorrow at Sacramento, their last regular-season game, and continue into the playoffs. The Lakers lead the Pacific Division with a 41-24 record and are in position for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference as they seek a third NBA championship in four seasons.
Apology to Harden
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.
“Metta has for the most part been a model citizen both on and off the court since joining the Lakers,” General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement on the team’s website. “Still, his most recent lapse in judgment is not to be condoned or accepted.”
World Peace left yesterday’s practice just as reporters were being allowed in, and canceled a scheduled appearance on Conan O’Brien’s late-night television show.
It was the latest incident of questionable behavior in the 13-year NBA career of World Peace, a native of Queens, New York, who played at St. John’s University in 1997-99.
In 2004, he 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 was 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.
“His actions could have seriously injured another player, and his absence during this suspension will hurt our team,” Kupchak said. “While we accept the league’s decision, we will be supportive of Metta and try to help him be more professional on the court.”