As the NFL prepares to level ground-breaking penalties on pay-for-head-hunting players and after the NHL dropped a 25-game ban on repeat offender Raffi Torres, the NBA on Tuesday handed a seven-game slap on the wrist to a player who has been suspended 13 times for a total of 111 games, who incited the ugliest riot in NBA history, who threw an elbow with the force of a sledgehammer at the head of James Harden on Sunday and showed no remorse after feeling his bone smack against the back of Harden's skull.
Hey, NBA: Pathetic.
First, I understand there is precedent. Trevor Ariza got one game for swinging his elbow at DeMar Derozan in 2009. Dwight Howard got a game for just missing Samuel Dalembert's skull with an elbow in the '09 playoffs. In fact, a seven-game elbow-involved banishment is 3½ times longer than any penalty the league has ever assessed.
You know what? I don't care.
This isn't any punishment for any player. This is Metta World Peace, one of the most-penalized players in league history, once again letting his emotions get the best of him, once again endangering the career of another player, once again committing a violent act. History has to be taken into account, not ignored. NBA commissioner David Stern has taken great pains to clean up the league in his tenure, slapping five-figure fines on those using foul language with officials, tagging players with lengthy penalties for boorish off-the-floor behavior and handing out one- or two-game suspensions for hard fouls like Skittles.
Yet World Peace skates by with seven games? Come on.
It was message-sending time, NBA, and you blew it. World Peace should have been banned for the playoffs, forced to have been held truly accountable for his actions. It would have hurt the Lakers, sure. After a rocky season, World Peace was coming around in April, averaging 14.1 points before the Harden-clocking incident. Now they will have to make do with a combination of Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks, solid players but not World Peace's timber. But L.A. knew what it was getting into when it signed the then-Ron Artest to a five-year, $34 million contract in '09. It knew something like this could happen, and it did.
Let's be clear: I don't think World Peace should be banished forever. And I don't want to minimize the strides he has taken to clean up his image. He took home the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award last season after raffling off his 2010 championship ring and donating part of his $6.8 million salary to charities that benefit mental health awareness. He has done some great things that have benefited many in need.
But he screwed up and should pay for it. Really pay for it. I'm not sure any suspension will truly make an impact on World Peace. Even after being tossed, even after being chased down by Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, World Peace continued to argue that the elbow was unintentional. His apology, first to reporters after the game and later on Twitter, rang hollow because he refused to acknowledge the obvious -- that he took a cheap shot at Harden for reasons only he can understand.
"When I saw it I said, '"Oh no, oh no, oh no,'" said Shane Battier, a teammate of World Peace's in Houston in 2008-09. "'Not this, Ron.' I've seen him do something like that before, where he wants to let guys know that he's there. That was excessive, of course, but something like it.
"Anyone that has ever played with Ron is quick to defend him. Ron, if you know him personally, has a good heart. He just makes poor decisions and gets overly emotional. You feel a little sadness. Everyone thought he was doing better, but it was a poor lapse in judgment."
The league let World Peace off easy on this one. We still don't know the extent of Harden's injuries. The Thunder are listing him as day-to-day, treating a concussion with the caution it deserves. One of the NBA's first moves following the lockout was to institute a new concussion protocol that requires a player, once symptom-free, to make it through increasing stages of exertion before being cleared by a neurologist. The process could take several days, if not longer.
Yes, the NBA talks a good game when it comes to head injuries. But when a violent, repeat offender like World Peace causes one, they offer a tepid response. There is no place in sports for this kind of behavior and no tolerance for those who continue to exhibit it. Metta World Peace will be punished for his actions. Just not punished enough.