Sam Gold | The OT
A fragile World Peace
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 02:04
Plain and simple, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown needs to monitor what’s in the water at the Staples Center. Granted, the Bynum−Barea encounter during last year’s playoffs did not occur during his tenure, but it must say something about the Lakers — admittedly rather unjustly — that the two most heinous on−court incidents of the past two seasons have involved their players.
With just nine minutes left in Game Four of the Lakers−Mavericks Western Conference Semifinals matchup in 2011, the barely six−feet−tall J.J. Barea drove into the lane and had a rather infelicitous run−in with seven−foot Andrew Bynum’s right arm.
Maybe it was the horror of an impending sweep, or maybe it was because, as basketball fans know well, the moniker “Big Baby” suits the puerile giant far better than it does Orlando’s Glen Davis, but Bynum decided to turn an inevitable rout into a UFC ring — to no avail, of course.
Did it matter in the end, however, when he stopped Barea dead in his tracks and sent him crashing to the floor? No, and it shouldn’t have. Bynum was escorted off the floor by the infamous former firebrand Metta World Peace and, in the only remaining act of disrespect at his disposal, removed his jersey while still in view of everyone in the arena.
Fast−forward to Monday night. The third−place Lakers were taking on the second−place Oklahoma City Thunder when, with less than two minutes left in the second quarter, Metta World Peace relapsed into Ron Artest. Following a basket, World Peace knocked Thunder guard James Harden to the ground with a strong left elbow to the head, prompting his immediate ejection from the game. Such is the dichotomy of his persona: Post−transformation World Peace is at once a guy who walks Bynum off the court and a guy who needs to be walked off himself.
Among the myriad responses to this episode, the one put forth by J.A. Adande of the Los Angeles Times is the most interesting, the most commonsense and the most Hammurabi−esque.
“The NBA should suspend World Peace indefinitely, see how many games (if any) Harden will miss, then tack on two to that number,” Adande wrote yesterday on ESPN.com’s Daily Dime.
The idea that an eye for an eye renders the whole world blind does not quite hold in an NBA setting. Luckily for both Bynum and Barea, Barea bounced right up off the floor and resumed playing; for that, Bynum received a measly five−game suspension.
Now to the other end of the spectrum. Not only will World Peace, who won the league’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award last season, likely pay a greater penalty for his actions, but he will also — and has already — galvanize the pitchfork−accoutered mob that haunted him throughout his more volatile days.
What’s more, in a side−by−side video comparison of the two incidents, Bynum irrefutably appears to have been intent on injuring Barea, while World Peace engaged in a particularly frenzied celebration of his dunk that lacked the ultimate goal of hurting an opposing player.
What NBA Commissioner David Stern has failed to do while presiding over this zoo of a sport is to strike a balance between intent and effect wrought. For example, should a player who inadvertently does his opponent more harm serve more or less time than one who deliberately targets another but does less harm? Or should they serve equal time?
Had Bynum professed any sense of wrongdoing, I might feel differently. Had World Peace not expressed concern for Harden first on the court and later on Twitter, I might feel differently. I agree wholeheartedly with Adande, but only from a standpoint devoid of the human factor.
Intent and contriteness matter in situations such as these, and suspensions will continue to be a contentious issue until Stern and his cadre of upper−level execs go about meting them out formulaically.
Sam Gold is a freshman who has yet to declare a major. He can be reached at Samuel_L.Gold@tufts.edu.