Metta World Peace was honored by UCLA for bringing awareness to the importance of mental health.
By ABBEY MASTRACCO FS West
LOS ANGELES — "How do you define healing?"
It was a pointed question posed to
Metta World Peace by a Sacramento man Friday afternoon, at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Health Center.
World Peace was talking to a group of patients of UCLA's mental health facility. He shared his story of his own battles with anxiety, depression and most notably anger.
These visits have become common for World Peace and an integral step in the evolution of his own healing. It was these visits, along with his fundraising efforts and his passion for bringing awareness to mental health that led UCLA Health Systems to acknowledge him with its highest honor, the CI-Care Award.
He is the first person to ever receive the award outside of UCLA Heath Systems. And the significance of this was not lost on anyone Friday afternoon, when a reception was thrown in his honor.
David Feinberg, the president of UCLA Heath Systems, had never invited a celebrity into the psychology ward before. He was apprehensive to do so, given World Peace's past. It's no secret that he has struggled over the years. From the Malice at the Palace, the domestic disturbances with his wife in Sacramento, the outlandish statements, behavior, haircuts and the legal name change to his current moniker from Ron Artest, he hasn't exactly been the picture of mental health.
But after winning his first NBA championship in 2010, he publicly thanked his psychologist.
One of the members of the group that World Peace spoke to Friday called the move "the coolest thing ever."
His psychologist had flown in for nearly every important game of that series. Before Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, World Peace had driven himself to distraction thinking about the 1999 Elite Eight, when his St. John's squad was eliminated from the NCAA tournament. He wondered if his play might not be championship-caliber. But his psychologist helped him through.
"Without her, I don't know that I would have been able to make that shot," he said.
These anecdotes help him relate to the patients that possess the same demons he has dealt with in the past.
An elementary-school-aged girl told him about her panic attacks. He related right away.
He bonded immediately with the Sacramento man in the group because of his time in the Capitol City playing for the Kings.
UCLA Health Systems recognized this ability to relate to these patients and to try to show them that you can go on to become something great against the odds.
Feinberg, a Lakers diehard, ignored his initial resistance and decided to take a chance by inviting World Peace into the renowned mental health facility. He was blown away the first time he saw him talking to a group, describing it as, "One of the most beautiful therapy sessions I have ever seen."
"It was then that I knew we weren't dealing with a basketball player," Feinberg said. "We were dealing with a healer."
The Artest family has long suffered from mental illness. In front of the first group, a group of adults, he rattled off a laundry list of family members that are in psych wards, functioning on medication, in jail or in halfway houses. He himself knew that he had a problem when was in therapy for anger issues at age 13.
His issues have been well-documented. It's his efforts to help people with the same issues that only started to come to light when he auctioned off his NBA championship ring and donated the proceeds to mental health charities across the country.
The idea to advocate came about after a turbulent period in Indiana. He was in Sacramento and playing for coach Rick Adelman. Adelman taught him the value of playing for a team and being a teammate. This opened his eyes in his basketball life and in his personal life.
He was still a work in progress with the Kings. After a particularly bad spat with his wife, he was ordered to take court-mandated parenting classes. World Peace said he felt lucky that he had the resources to take those classes and to go to marriage counseling. But he recognized that others might not.
He went to his publicist, Heidi Busch, and they came up with the idea to film therapy sessions and put them on YouTube, with the hope of it reaching families and beginning their healing efforts.
"I figured that if one kid could identify with her, then he could identify with him, and it would make a difference," he said.
But the program never got off the ground. He was then dealt to Houston and finally landed in Los Angeles, on a championship team.
This was his time to finally be heard.
"I figured that when I won the championship, I was going to expose (these issues) to the world," World Peace said.
He wanted to expose the financial issues, the stigma of mental health problems – all of it. He found the passion inside of him and channeled it much the way he channels his passion for basketball on the court.
It was a release for him, and it has held him accountable at times, when in the past, he failed to own up to his actions.
A lot of Ron Artest/Metta World Peace hasn't changed. He is still the same entertaining character that he has been since his days with the Red Storm. He told the event's special guest, Larry King, that the true reason behind his name change was that he loves to have fun and he loves to inspire. And the fun part showed during the answer to King's next question – is LeBron James the best player in the NBA?
"I could never say that anybody is the best," World Peace said. "Because I have a huge ego."
He has always been unabashedly himself. At times happy and content with himself and at times his own worst enemy, he has grown up into another version of himself in addition to the basketball player as he continues to heal.
As he struggled to answer the Sacramento man's question, he paused, and looked around the room before looking back at him, and finally saying, "I'm still healing."