A highly anticipated Sunday matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder turned ugly pretty quick after Metta World Peace got so excited from a dunk he felt the need to elbow James Harden in the head as hard as he could. Watching it live, it didn’t look particularly severe or intentional; watching the dozens of replays that followed immediately proved otherwise. The irony of “Metta World Peace” making such an idiotic and downright despicable play was immediately clear as everyone hammered him and the Lakers on Twitter and Facebook while LA fans tried to come up with some clever response to what had just happened.
Now I’ve never liked Ron Artest (from here on out I don’t care what his name is, I’m never referring to him as “World Peace” again) because I’m a Phoenix Suns fan. His buzzer-beater changed momentum in a playoff series that ended my favorite team’s hopes of going to the Finals. And as an ASU student, I love James Harden and his epic beard, especially since he’s having such a breakout year. So I’m sure any Lakers fans reading this are going to accuse me of being biased. But let me assure that when I wrote this post, I considered both sides and wrote it in a fair and strictly professional way. With that being said, there are times in sports when it’s acceptable for there to be haters because of the actions of some players, and this is certainly one of those moments.
Artest’s elbow on James Harden was a disgrace to the game and if he isn’t banned for more than 10 games, I will be disgusted. You can say all you want that maybe it wasn’t intentional because he wasn’t looking at Harden when he threw the elbow, but even if he just felt the presence of someone next to him, how does it make sense that he maliciously threw the elbow and followed through? He knew what he was doing, whether he was looking at him or not. He tried to explain to the referee that he was just pumped up and beating his chest, but I don’t recall the last time someone in the NBA beat their chest and threw an elbow while doing it. So there’s no question that after such an awful play, Laker haters were in heaven. They had another valid reason to hate on the team they previously could only resent because of their success.
To be fair, Lakers fans have to deal with a lot of hating. And until last year, it was mostly because Kobe Bryant and his team were so successful (although it’s also true a lot of fans dislike Kobe because of the rape allegations a few years ago). But whatever the case, sports fans will be sports fans; Laker haters make comments about the integrity of the organization and Kobe any chance they get and LA fans respond with generic comments reminding everyone about how historically successful their franchise has been. I admit, I’ve hated on the Lakers before just because of how long they’ve been successful and how great Kobe Bryant has been in his career (especially on my poor Phoenix Suns). And that may seem two-faced of me considering how one of my team’s former players, Raja Bell, was responsible for one of the biggest cheap shots in NBA history on Kobe Bryant. But Raja Bell doesn’t play for Phoenix anymore and found no love in my heard for that horrendous excuse for a foul; in fact, I condemned him after that play and wanted him out of my team’s uniform immediately, something I had no problem telling anyone who would listen. But I didn’t hear anything like that from Laker fans yesterday.
To all my Lakers fans, I have to say this: While it’s been unfair for most people to hate on the Lakers in the past for the reason of resenting success, there’s a legitimate reason to do so now. Artest’s blatant elbow to Harden’s head was a disgrace to the game and he should be fined and suspended for at least 10 games. But what a lot of people should remember is that this isn’t the first time this kind of crap has happened with the Lakers. There was Andrew Bynum’s ridiculous body check on J.J. Barea in the playoffs last year, followed by him taking his shirt off in an immediate ejection. Lamar Odom’s hit on Dirk Nowitzki was completely disrespectful and got him ejected in the same game. And who could forget the fact that Ron Artest is a repeat offender after the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004? So is there any question that Laker haters actually have a legitimate reason now?
It’s wrong to hate on a team because of their success, and at some point in our sports-loving lives, we’ve all been guilty of it. But the fact is, it still happens and that’s never going to change. Lakers fans, Steelers fans, Yankees fans and a lot of other great teams know this already. But after things like this happen, I don’t blame fans for jumping on the “HATE L.A.” bandwagon. And something else to consider is that Lakers fans aren’t making things any easier on themselves with their sarcastic, anti-Laker hater tweets defending such an indefensible act. A few of them admitted how disgusted they were with what he did, but the majority were already on the defensive because of the barrage of Artest-hating sentiments that were raining down. Rightfully so, and I’m not saying Lakers fans should go choose another team to support just because of what Artest did. But when your first move as a “true fan” is to go on the offensive to defend your team and ignore what happened after such an egregious act, you (and your team by extension) don’t deserve the rest of the league’s respect.
The Thunder losing the game and Kevin Durant disappearing like that was absolutely disturbing. They had a reason to win and someone to play for and completely choked. But it’s not inexplicable; after that elbow, OKC lost their third best player and all the Lakers lost was Artest. LA was actually better off without him, as Jordan Hill had a terrific game. And sure, LA took the lead, won it in double overtime and got everyone in the Staples Center fired up, but anyone who wasn’t a Laker fan wanted them to lose, especially after Staples Center gave Artest a standing ovation as he left the court. It felt like injustice. I’ve never been more disgusted watching a team win a basketball game in my entire life, and seeing Laker fans jubilantly celebrating the win and Kobe’s clutch performance didn’t feel right, even if they had every reason to do so. Now it’s unfair to blame an entire organization for one idiot’s mistake, but after Bynum and Odom’s actions last year and now this, it’s hard to fault Lakers haters.
Ron Artest has always been a punk and changing his name to “Metta World Peace” might be one of the biggest ironies in NBA history. You can call me biased and you can call me a Laker hater, but when I watched that Oklahoma City Thunder-LA Lakers game on Sunday, I was cheering against the Lakers not as a James Harden fan and not as Laker hater. But I sure as hell cheered against the Lakers as a fan of the integrity of the game of basketball. So please, Lakers fans. Just this one time, can you stop being so damn defensive about Laker haters and admit that someone on your team did something wrong and just leave it at that? Because the rest of us would probably take it easier on you if you had the courage to say you’re just as disgusted with Ron Artest as we are. In fact, you’re doing a disservice to the very team you love so much, a team with a rich basketball history, by not doing so. You want Laker haters to stop? Show them you’re won’t tolerate any kind of behavior that tarnishes the image and reputation of your team. Then you will have my respect as a truly classy fanbase.