When the NBA is doling out suspensions for flagrant fouls and fights, Commissioner David Stern has said that a player’s previous track record factors into determining the penalty.
For example, during a nationally televised regular-season game last season, Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace received a seven-game suspension for elbowing James Harden in the head, flooring the Oklahoma City Thunder guard and leaving him with a concussion.
World Peace was clearly caught up in the emotion of the moment – which doesn’t excuse his actions in any way. He had just scored and the crowd at Staples Center was going wild. He thumped his chest as began to return downcourt and initially appeared willing to just shove his way past Harden, who was pretty much an innocent bystander to that point.
Then World Peace decided that all of his physical posturing wasn’t enough and drilled Harden in the ear with a hard elbow. He wasn’t looking at Harden when he hit him, leaving open the absurd possibility offered in his defense that his actions were accidental. What it really looked like was his initial contact with Harden allowed him to line up his victim and clobber him without facing him.
The NBA found an easy way to remove any doubt that World Peace’s actions were clearly intentional and had no place in the game. It simply considered the source.
This was a guy who smashed a $150,000 video camera after a loss in his hometown of New York. This was a guy who once wandered onto the Miami Heat’s bench to deliver verbal jabs, incurring the wrath of Pat Riley.
And of course, this was a guy who was the primary protagonist in the NBA’s darkest moment, running into the stands to assault a fan during a Pacers-Pistons game and triggering a frightening riot that forever will be known as “The Malice at the Palace.”
World Peace is a dirty player, and that’s OK. The league is filled with dirty players. John Stockton, one of the all-time great point guards and a generally beloved player, was a dirty player.