Ron Artest: Buddhist or bizarre?

If it’s not bizarre, it’s not Ron Artest. That’s the theory, at least.

Last week the poor man’s Denis Rodman continued to make news for his actions off the basketball court. This time it wasn’t about his Hyundai pimped out in Lakers’ purple and gold or about his falling down the stairs at home or about the Pacers-Pistons brawl or about his Hebrew hairdo. Artest made news for filing papers to change his name — to Metta World Peace.

And I had to wonder whether Ron Ron would get a fair shake in the reporting of this story. After all , when reporters write about people infamous for their bizarre behavior, it’s difficult to take anything they do seriously. That often comes across in the writing, which is tongue-in-cheek, and the treatment, which is brief.

Exhibit A, from the Los Angeles Times:

Just when you thought you had seen it all regarding Ron Artest …

The Lakers forward filed paperwork Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court to legally change his name to Metta World Peace.

“Metta” is a Buddhist term. One definition for the word is “a strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others.”

The article is, in sum, nine paragraphs, which probably about correct. First, this is a story for the sports pages, yet it’s only connection to sports is tenuous. Second, this story is quirky so maybe it would otherwise have legs, but it’s more likely that the same story would not appear in, say, the California section if it was about an Average Joe.

But there were two things — one a pretty big ghost — that should not have been omitted from even another short, quirky story about the soon-to-be athlete formerly known as Ron Artest.

The article mentions that several other professional basketball players have changed their names, noting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bison Dele, but did not reference World B. Free, who as an NBA star had the same idea that Artest did 30 years ago. How is that possible?

Further, though the article mentions other name changes, it does not report that Kareem, formerly Lew Alcindor, changed his name to an Arabic one out of Muslim conviction, or that Dele changed his name to honor his ancestry. It also, more glaringly, did not explain why Artest is changing his name.

What motivated him? Is Artest a Buddhist? Is this some religious transformation for a former bad boy of the league? If so, why does his name change play in and why have I not heard of other Buddhists changing their names? If not, why did he choose a Buddhist word?

And many more religion-related questions …

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  • Jerry

    For what it’s worth, http://www.nesn.com/2011/06/poll-what-is-your-favorite-sports-related-name-change.html has a list of sports name changes.

    http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-opinion/6702318/commentary-ron-artest-plays-name-game says he has yet to fully explain the name change.

    http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/06/25/ron-artest-to-change-name-to-metta-world-peace/ asserts he gave “personal reasons” for why.

    So I think the lack of reporting is due to his own refusal to go into details.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    In which case, reporters have a duty to tell the reader not only what they know but what they dont know and why.

  • mark

    Artest is a very likeable colorful character. He is in a perfect town for his personality. The question for him and the same goes for Odom is how much willingness and hunger do they really have to win another championship? Or is just part of the package on there way to a career in Entertainment. The Buss family in the past has always pulled the trigger when there run of championships were over and they were over the salary cap. It would not suprise me to see these guys moved to another team. That will be the end of there Hollywood days.

  • Jerry

    Brad, that’s a good point. I’ll note that the time.com story was the best I found so far about his lack of comment on his reasons.

  • Henry

    I know nothing about basketball and had never heard of Ron Artest, but his interest in religions seems evident. I looked at Wikipedia to see if it held any clues as to why, and noticed his brothers’ names are Isaiah and Daniel. It’d be interesting to know about what role religion played in his household when he was growing up, and how he responded to it.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Bison Dele was an old friend of mine, although I knew him as Brian. Worth noting that it’s been almost 9 years exactly since his untimely (presumed) death.

  • Matt

    The article mentions that several other professional basketball players have changed their names, noting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bison Dele,

    The third person mentioned in that paragraph is Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, misspelled as “Mahmud Abdul-Raff”

    but did not reference World B. Free, who as an NBA star had the same idea that Artest did 30 years ago.

    I’m not sure this is the same thing, “B.” is actually his middle initial and “Free” is actually his last name, and the sources I can find say that “World” was a nickname given to him in reference to his jumping ability. The political subtext does seem obvious, and it may be true that it was intended.

    Jerry says: For what it’s worth, http://www.nesn.com/2011/06/poll-what-is-your-favorite-sports-related-name-change.html has a list of sports name changes.

    This may actually be a better article than the LATimes. It does mention religious motivations for Abdul-Jabbar and Abdul-Rauf as well as Muhammad Ali, though it doesn’t mention Dele. The strange thing about it, though, is that the poll at the end does not list any of the religiously-motivated name changes as options. As if those are so obviously uncool that no one would vote for them.

    …the poor man’s Denis Rodman…

    Ouch!

  • Steve S

    “If so, why does his name change play in and why have I not heard of other Buddhists changing their names?”

    Maybe you haven’t read this entry on “Dharma names”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma_name

    A dharma name is a new name acquired during a Buddhist initiation ritual in Mahayana Buddhism and monk ordination in Theravada Buddhism. The name is traditionally given by a Buddhist monastic, but is also given to newly ordained monks, nuns and laity.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    You’re correct. I have not. But I’ve never a reported a story on a Dharma name change. If I had, I would have learned it and at least referenced it.


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