MILAN (AP) Metta World Peace had barely landed in Italy when the former NBA All-Star was soon singing with fans of his new team and thinking of a second season.
Thanks to advice from former teammate Kobe Bryant, World Peace joined Pallacanestro Cantu on Thursday, and was presented to the team’s fans at its Mapooro Arena.
”I didn’t come here because I’m old and I don’t want to play anymore,” World Peace said. ”No, it’s the perfect time for me, to come now, have a chance to play hard, meet my teammates, and then see if I can play another season here. It’s one of the best leagues in the world, and I’m very excited.”
The 35-year-old World Peace, who won an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, said he won’t quit playing professionally until he’s 40.
The former Ron Artest became Metta World Peace in 2011, then ”The Panda’s Friend” while playing in China last year for Sichuan Blue Whales, where he averaged 19 points and six rebounds in 15 games until a knee injury.
His Cantu shirt bears the name The Panda’s Friend. Cantu fans greeted him at Milan’s Malpensa Airport with toy pandas, and chants of ”Canturini Ale” (hooray for Cantu fans). He joined in the singing.
”The panda is a funny, loveable animal, which defends its territory well,” World Peace said. ”It’s strong but calm. It suits me perfectly.
”People who have followed my career still call me Ron and that’s OK, most of the young kids call me Metta, and then everyone in China calls me Panda. In the Middle East they call me World Peace,” he joked.
Peace hasn’t always been his calling card. In the most notorious of his on-court controversies, he fought with Detroit fans during an NBA game in 2004, and was suspended for 86 games. He’s older, and changed, he said.
”I had an up and down career. I grew up playing basketball on the streets of New York City and it was very, very rough, and I started playing in the NBA in the same way,” he said.
”Now, the mentality is different from when I was younger. I always had the street mentality, but when you’re older you get more mature. When you play angry you can’t focus. I’ve got five more years to have a great time, so I will be playing with a lot of fire but not anger, just passion.”
Cantu, which called signing World Peace ”the coup of the century,” was 10th in the 16-team Lega A, with 17 games remaining. The top eight qualify for the playoffs. Cantu last won the title 34 years ago.
”I always wanted to play in Europe for a long time,” he said. ”They move the ball and they move bodies, and that’s what I like doing. I’m looking forward to playing team basketball and being smart as well as scoring. I can score but I’m excited about team basketball.
”I wanted Cantu because every time you see former superstars they always say they want to play for contenders. I don’t want to play for any team. I prefer playing for a lower team and playing against the best. I don’t like playing with them, I want to play against them … and beat them.”