Several NBA players have chosen to feature a social justice message on the back of their jersey for the remainder of the 2020 season in place of their last name. The movement came as racial tensions rose in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black men and women at the hands of police.
Some of those messages are words like "Equality," "Freedom" and "Peace," which was chosen by New Orleans Pelican and Duke Blue Devil wonderboy Zion Williamson. Others ask "How Many More" names will become hashtags as victims of racially-charged violence. This is the saying Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard chose to go along with his number, 0. The league — and nation — are pleading for zero more names to be added to the list.
Ron Artest was ahead of the curve when he renamed himself Metta World Peace in 2011. The name change was an attempt to start a new chapter for the troubled forward. What some might see as a case study in rebranding was much more than a splash of Windex to create a cleaner image.
“Changing my name was meant to inspire and bring youth together all around the world,” he said in a statement at the time.
"Metta" translates to "lovingkindness" in the Buddhist tradition. And "World Peace" ... well... is what everyone dreams of, isn't it? And that message of social justice was displayed on the NBA star's jersey for five seasons, a third of his 17-year career. The name came with criticism, laughter and lots of head-scratching. But it has cemented an unparalleled legacy in the basketball world.
The New York native grew up in the same Queensbridge projects as several figures of hip-hop royalty. Artest tried his hand at rap as well, although basketball would be his path to stardom. Queensbridge is a nurturing community that wrestles with poverty and drugs and his personal home was burdened with domestic violence.
He played college basketball at St. John's University before being a first-round pick, sixteenth overall, in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan had just retired after leading the Bulls to a second three-peat championship series and the team was entering rebuilding mode. A young Artest only spent two seasons in the Windy City before bouncing around the league, stopping in Indiana, Sacramento and Houston before finding his franchise in 2009 with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Artest built his career as a defensive force, but also as a bully and a brawler. In 2004, Artest showed his fiercest side in The Malice at the Palace fight between his Pacers and the Detroit Pistons that started when Artest got into it with a fan. The incident had the family-friendly NBA reeling as it dished out more than 140 game suspensions.
To add to his bad boy image on the court, Artest was arrested for domestic violence in 2007 for an argument and altercation with his then-wife, Kimsha Artest. Their three-year-old daughter was in the home at the time of the incident. The Sacramento Kings suspended him while the case was handled.
Artest's name change in 2011 to Metta World Peace signified that he was going to be a different man, a different player. He was coming off the 2010 NBA Championship with the Lakers and was continuing to build his friendlier image with a run on "Dancing With the Stars."
He recently explained on "Inside the Green Room" how he was inspired by NFL star Chad Ochocinco fka Chad Johnson to change his name because "I was one of those people that I love attention." He shared that his first idea was a tribute to Queensbridge, but he decided to go the more philosophical route and pay homage to his journey of mindfulness.
He also shared about the experience playing under the name "World Peace" for the first time.
"I was like, 'This is the dumbest thing ever,'" he laughs. ... "I remember not wanting to take off my warm-up, embarrassing. I did think about changing my name back, but I got used to it, people got used to it."
Since then, Metta World Peace has been open about his journey finding true tranquility for himself and serves as a counselor for others to fight their own internal battles. He is an open book about his mental health and advocates for therapy. He auctioned off his 2010 Championship ring and gave the money to charities helping children in his home state, showing that he's found his higher calling.
In the social media age, it's easier than ever to make political statements without having the work to back it up. But World Peace showed that today's athletes can truly stand for something. Although having a name like "Peace" on the back of one's jersey might be considered a trend today, he possibly paved the way for NBA superstar LeBron James to opt not to put a social justice message on his jersey because his community work and stances against racism are already established.
Perhaps World Peace's boldness helped give Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac the courage to be the first player to not kneel for the national anthem once the season restarted. While the 22-year-old received criticism for his decision, several pointed out his charitable efforts match his stance that caring about Black lives is more than one physical act of solidarity. Isaac's jersey sales shot up after his decision, making his jersey the second-most popular in the NBA Shop.
Metta World Peace retired in 2017 and actually changed his name yet again after marrying model Maya Ford, so his last name is Sandiford-Artest. World Peace is no more. But Peace, Equality and Freedom are carrying the torch.