Metta World Peace insists he’s not “misunderstood.”
“That’s saying that I am somehow different from what people say I am,” the retired hoopster tells The Post. “I am that person. I’m from the streets.”
The 39-year-old Queens-bred hoops star, who changed his name from Ron Artest in 2011, has long been seen as a man with anger-management issues. In 2004, playing for the Indiana Pacers, he jumped into the stands and fought a fan after someone lobbed a soda at him. The brawl, dubbed “Malice at the Palace,” landed him an 86-game suspension, a nearly $5 million fine and a reputation as a head case.
But he’s more than that: He’s also the person who, after winning the 2010 NBA championship with the Lakers, thanked his psychotherapist in a post-game interview — becoming an unlikely advocate for mental health.
“I just don’t think people know the whole story,” says the former St. John’s standout, whose mental-health journey is tracked in the new Bleacher Report-produced documentary “Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story,” airing Friday on Showtime. “The reason I was how I was is because things that happened in my life.”
The polarizing baller says he long struggled with the crippling mix of depression and anxiety that stemmed from an unstable childhood in Long Island City’s Queensbridge projects during the height of the crack wars. He started therapy at 13 to help him cope when his parents split, and a fire ravaged the family’s apartment. After he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1999, the organization got him help for his hair-trigger temper. But it was all hush-hush.
“In 1999, you weren’t trying to go out and say, ‘Hey, I am seeing a therapist,’ ” he says. “I was such a big talent. Usually people who have antics like myself, they just get rid of them.”
Although his talent outweighed his troubles, he was shipped off to the Indiana Pacers. There, team CEO and president Donnie Walsh helped orchestrate a larger coping strategy for his troubled defensive star.
These days, mental health is much more accepted in the macho world of sports. The public has embraced Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, who is outspoken about his struggles with panic attacks. In March, NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that many players are “generally unhappy.” And earlier this month, the NFL announced a new initiative requiring all teams to have mental-health professionals on staff.
But 20 years ago, interventions like those were rare.
“I was ahead of my time,” World Peace says. “Back then, the media was like, ‘Oh, he’s crazy. He’s not ready to play at that level.’ Now the media is saying, ‘Get this person help.’ ”
Luckily, he says, Walsh was ahead of his time, too. “That man is amazing,” says World Peace. “I would meet with Donnie after practice and then the therapist. He was a major part of me getting happy.”
Another key player on his mental health team was his former therapist, Dr. Santhi Periasamy, who World Peace famously thanked after winning the 2010 NBA championship.
Before meeting with her, World Peace had an aggressive game-time strategy: “I used to focus on other players who I didn’t like, to fight.” But therapy changed that. “I needed something else to focus on, so we used to pick a point on the rim, and I would focus on that the whole time. And I would focus on my breathing. We worked on it for two years.”
As for that post-interview shoutout, Periasamy had flown from her home in Houston to Los Angeles to mentally prepare her patient for the game. “I just felt like I had to thank her,” says World Peace.
New Metta World Peace documentary addresses mental health
“Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story” premieres on Showtime during…
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He wishes Twitter and Instagram had been around in those days.
“Social media would have been great to have while I was playing,” he says. “If I was feeling sad one day, I could go on social media and say I was sad. It was a different world then. Now you can spread your message more easily.”
Back then, he says, he couldn’t share his feelings with many people, including his ex-wife, Kimsha Artest, with whom he once had a dispute that led to his 2007 arrest for domestic violence.
“I wish I had trusted more people,” says the father of four, who also has a grandchild. “Even my wife at the time. I didn’t even trust her to talk about certain things.”
World Peace says he’s yet to see “Quiet Storm,” a candid hour-and-45-minute doc about his struggles, complete with cringe-worthy footage of his 2004 brawl and insights from his family members and former teammates.
But he says he’s not worried. After hanging up his sneakers in 2017, he no longer sees a therapist. “I don’t have much to be stressed out about these days.”