There will be a lot of invective unleashed as a result of Metta World Peace’s vicious elbow to James Harden’s head late in the second quarter of Sunday afternoon’s Thunder-Lakers game. The event was significant because of the teams involved, because of the players involved, and most specifically because of Metta’s history of violent, erratic behavior. If most other NBA players had thrown that elbow during a dunk celebration, people would be more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t intended to connect to Harden’s head. This particular perpetrator used up his “benefit of the doubt cards” a long time ago.
From my perspective, Metta’s intent is irrelevant here and I’d feel that way no matter who threw the elbow. This wasn’t a basketball play where somebody was swinging his elbows while trying to secure a rebound. Metta irresponsibly (at best) launched his elbow to his side in a violent fashion, and Harden’s injury was a direct result of that action. It shouldn’t matter whether or not Metta meant to elbow him in the head.
The lesson that needs to be taught here is that NBA players need to be accountable for the ramifications of their actions on the court, regardless of whether they have ill intentions. If you want to celebrate after a dunk, that’s your prerogative. If your celebration causes injury to another player, you deserve a suspension just as severe as you would have received if the contact was intentional. To put it another way, you shouldn’t get to act a fool and not get called on it in this league.
To be clear, I’m not saying that players shouldn’t celebrate and pose and taunt after they make an exciting play — I love that stuff as much as anyone. But you don’t get to damn near knock an opponent out during that celebration and then get away with it on a “Whoopsie, I got carried away” technicality.
The range for the potential length of Metta’s suspension is larger than any similar event in recent NBA history. At the low end, he might get 10 games or so. At the high end, he might be permanently banned from the league. That high end might seem ridiculous to many of you, but ask yourself how safe you’d feel playing against Metta World Peace if you were an NBA player.
I don’t need to read Metta’s mind or his body language to determine if he meant to nearly decapitate James Harden with his elbow — I don’t care because it doesn’t matter. I know he’s a swell guy with a big heart off the court, but he’s a dangerous menace on the court who is more likely to end somebody’s NBA career than anyone else in this sport. I’m not advocating a permanent ban, but I won’t complain if that’s Judge Stern’s verdict.