Lakers Metta World Peace says hes grown up from crazy days

18 Feb 2013 09:11:42

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He's an NBA champion who opposing fans call nuts, but Metta World Peace said Friday he's learned to cope with the smack talk, and is now all about helping troubled youths make their way in the world.

The Los Angeles Lakers forward, who in 2011 legally changed his name from Ron Artest, also said fellow athletes in the league have begun discussing ways to curb gun violence in the wake of December's elementary school massacre.

"It's definitely a topic of discussion, because... a lot of athletes grew up in violent neighborhoods," World Peace told reporters outside the US Capitol, where he had come to lend his support for congressional legislation that would fund in-school mental health care services for students.

"It's something that we wish we could change," he said of the street violence.

As a young teen, World Peace took the bold step of taking his mother's advice and going to counseling to manage pressure -- something he continued through college and eventually into his professional career, he said.

He has since worked to raise millions of dollars for mental health programs. After winning a championship with the Lakers in 2010, he thanked his psychiatrist on television.

It was a startling reversal from six years earlier, when World Peace -- then Artest -- was part of one of the most vicious brawls in NBA history.

He served an 86-game ban for his role in a fight between Indiana players and Detroit Pistons fans in 2004 -- one in which the then-Pacers player charged into the stands to attack a fan after someone threw an object at him.

For some, the mayhem came to define World Peace's career, and fans on opposing teams have not let him forget.

"It was definitely tough at first," he said. "You've got to be at the free throw line, and shooting three-pointers while people are calling you crazy in the stands... that can get pretty annoying.

"But now I'm at a point now where I can shoot the three, make the three, whatever."

His candor about counseling has earned praise -- and made some troubled youths feel like they have somewhere to turn.

"I'm sending out a message to let people know it's OK if you need help," World Peace said. "You shouldn't feel ashamed if you want to improve yourself."

After winning the NBA finals, he even raffled off his championship ring for about $700,000, money he donated to mental health causes.

"I kind of wish I hadn't," he joked. "But I thought it was worth it."

Congressman Mike Thompson, who chairs a task force on violence, said World Peace serves as an inspiration.

"Here's a guy who's an all-star. He doesn't have to do anything but play basketball and get his check," Thompson said.

"Not only has he recognized that he has some issues... but he's got the guts to step forward and share his issues with everybody, and to try and make a difference to help society and to help other people."

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