Fearless by Name

09/21/2022 Fearless by Name

By: Jeff Yoder

Metta Sandiford-Artest: A One-Of-A-Kind Competitor

The name says it all. Like a boy to a man, from the streets to the courts, it changes with time but remains the same. A fierce competitor from the start, Metta Sandiford-Artest (formerly Ron Artest) went toe-to-toe with the greats — Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James. The Sportsletter team sat down with him to talk about his journey to hoops stardom and discuss life after basketball. But first, we start from the beginning.


Growing up in Queens, New York, Metta played ball at the well-known La Salle Academy, and he teamed up with NBA stars Elton Brand and Lamar Odom in AAU. He was a fearless competitor even from the beginning, groomed by tough experiences few could understand. 


When Metta was in high school, he witnessed a murder on the basketball court at a 1991 YMCA Tournament when 19-year-old Lloyd Newton was stabbed with a table leg. Fearlessness wasn’t just a game plan, it was survival.


Metta gained fame around New York City at an early age, dominating through various tournaments as a defensive mastermind. His defensive mentality was unmatched, but he had a long way to go. At nearby St. John’s in NYC, Metta led the Red Storm to the Elite Eight in 1999 — their best finish in the last 22 years since. 


That run put Metta on the map. He was drafted by the Bulls with the 16th pick in 1999, just one year after Chicago’s “Last Dance” that was revived in the recent Netflix special. He was selected by — you guessed it — Bulls GM Jerry Krause.


“Yeah, Jerry [Krause] drafted me. He’s my man. The reason I love Jerry so much is because you’re talking about a general manager that was a part of the championships that I love. And you’re also talking about my favorite players on that team, that Jerry approved. So for me, I’m like, Jerry picked me? He picked Rodman, Pippin, Jordan, and me? Damn, right? At the 16th pick? That’s a hell of a compliment, man. So Jerry was one of the key factors in completing my dream, getting drafted to Chicago. What more could I want?”


Metta was the standard for fearless NBA defenders. He guarded the likes of LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, and even Kobe Bryant before they teamed up. He earned four NBA All-Defensive selections and the 2003-2004 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.


That 2004 season was also significant because of an incident that rocked the sports world. Basketball fans can’t forget the ‘Malice at the Palace’ — an all-out brawl sparked by a fan throwing beer at Artest during a timeout. It wasn’t a shining moment for Metta, but it shaped his future in the league and branded him as a ferocious competitor you didn’t want to mess with.


With six different teams in 19 seasons (Chicago, Indiana, Houston, Sacramento, New York, and Los Angeles), he packaged one of the most extensive, durable, and accomplished careers an NBA star could hope for, but no underdog story is complete without a ring. Metta’s came in 2010 alongside the late Kobe Bryant.


“Kobe was great because he taught me work ethic. He told me there was always another level to reach, and then I was able to take that and watch him, and hopefully I can give that back when I’m coaching. Although I’m not coaching in the NBA, I’m still coaching players and a lot of people. But he taught me how to take my game to the next level. It was a great time that I had with him. I never thought I would play with Kobe, but I did. And what an honor. What an honor.”


After winning that championship in 2010, the name changed. So, too, did the persona.


From the sparkplug defender with a reputation as the league’s fiercest competitor, then-Ron Artest evolved into something, and someone, altogether different — Metta World Peace.


We asked about the name change, to which Sandiford-Artest said he wanted to bring youth together around the world. Playing for Phil Jackson in Los Angeles, he picked up some things from the “zen master.” In Buddhist culture, ‘Metta’ means loving kindness. And after a decade of being the NBA’s premier lock-down defender, he became much more than a basketball player.


“I think that players being vulnerable is great. If something’s bothering you, it’s just good to address it. And you can’t just generalize players and put them all in one bucket. Some players go through things, but some players don’t. Some players are okay, some players are just walking the fine line. Some players are over the line in terms of depression or anxiety or other issues, but everybody’s different. So, it’s not going to stop. There’s always going to be something. So our job is to be a resource for the players because not many other people are going to be a resource for players. That’s what makes me most proud about what I see from my fellow NBA players.”


Ron Artest. Metta World Peace. Metta Sandiford-Artest. No matter what you call him, the defensive bulldog finished his career as an NBA champion, All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, and so much more, all while averaging career totals of just 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. He ranks top-25 all-time in steals (1,721), but he’s at the top of the list for fierce competitors.


Today, Sandiford-Artest has continued coaching while helping athletes with their finances through Artest Management Group and pursuing media ventures in film, app development, and more. An underdog from Queens who made a living from the love of competition…