Metta World Peace had a clean slate. If that Ron Artest guy had delivered a brutal left elbow to the back of James Harden's cranium, the league would have had to come down harshly on a player with a long rap sheet of NBA transgressions.
Metta World Peace is not Ron Artest, of course. After all, they have different names.
That line of reasoning would be only slightly more ludicrous than the justification of World Peace's seven-game suspension, which the league handed down Tuesday night and will begin with the regular season finale in Sacramento.
Seven games without pay is a fair punishment, but it is on the low side of what would constitute "fair." Past incidents cannot always be used as a guide, since circumstances and context vary, but history suggests World Peace should have received something between seven and 15 games. World Peace got off lightly.
Carmelo Anthony got 15 games and J.R. Smith received 10 games for their roles in a brawl at Madison Square Garden in 2006. No brawl is a good brawl, but at least when Anthony and Smith threw their punches, the Knicks swung back. (Even if Anthony was high-tailing it in reverse after cheap-shotting Mardy Collins, but that's another story.) Harden did not — could not — swing back, and without the ability to defend himself, it was up to the league to defend him. By suspending World Peace less than half the amount of games Anthony received, the league failed Harden.
As usual, the most interesting aspect of any public relations nightmare was what was said and not said in the written statements by the particular parties involved. NBA commissioner David Stern and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak had some doozies.
"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," Stern said. "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."
That last part is basically Stern saying, as we emphasized above, that World Peace is not Artest. If he were, the league would have had to deliver a message to a player who has been disciplined 10 times in the last 10 years, including a busy 2004 when Artest was fined or suspended four times. There was also a little thing called "The Malice at the Palace," for which Stern dished out an 86-game ban, but apparently that did not count toward World Peace's "history" in determining his discipline this time.
Kupchak also exhibited selective amnesia in his statement on World Peace's suspension.
"Metta has for the most part been a model citizen both on and off the court since joining the Lakers," Kupchak said. "Still, his most recent lapse in judgment is not to be condoned or accepted. His actions could have seriously injured another player, and his absence during this suspension will hurt our team as well. While we accept the league's decision, we will be supportive of Metta and try to help him be more professional on the court."
The "model citizen" in question was suspended for Game 3 of last season's Western Conference semifinals as a member of the Lakers for smacking the Mavericks' J.J. Barea late in Game 2. Almost every NBA player not named World Peace (or Andrew Bynum) has managed to avoid knocking around the admittedly annoying former Dallas guard, so if World Peace is a model citizen, 99 percent of the players in the league should be getting a call from the Vatican about being granted sainthood any day now.
Also, Kupchak's definition of a serious injury could use some work.
"[World Peace's] actions could have seriously injured another player," Kupchak said, as though Harden's brain rattling inside his skull was just a goose egg.
Regardless of the hollow justifications for the suspension, the length created the possibility of an odd scene in the conference semifinals. If the Lakers take six games or more to win their first-round series (assuming they win at all), World Peace could be in uniform when L.A. opens its second-round series with the Thunder, while Harden may still be sidelined with his head injury. Perhaps World Peace would even hit a few big shots or, heaven forbid, land a few more shots to harm another Oklahoma City player in the series.
It would be hard then to look at Harden, watching in his slim-fitting suit and thick-rimmed glasses, and see how World Peace's punishment was sufficient.