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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