In sheer emotion and rage, Lakers forward Metta World Peace swung his arms violently.
He had just thrown down his third dunk of the game late in the first half, and the 18,997 fans at Staples Center erupted with joy. No one looked more elated than World Peace, who pounded his right fist on his chest. He then cocked his arm back and swung an elbow at Oklahoma City forward James Harden.
Harden fell to the ground clutching his ear. Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka went toward World Peace, who squared up and appeared ready to defend himself. After both teams separated each other, World Peace pleaded his case to referee Gary Zielinski, using body language to suggest it was an accident.
It did't work. The incident earned World Peace a flagrant foul type 2, an immediate ejection and a likely suspension.
"During that play, I just dunked on Durant and Ibaka. I got real emotional, real excited," World Peace said after the Lakers' 114-106 double overtime victory Sunday over the Oklahoma City Thunder. "It's unfortunate that James had to get hit with an unintentional elbow. I hope he's OK. The Thunder. they're playing for a championship this year. I really hope he's OK and I apologize to the Thunder and to James Harden. It was such a great game. It was unfortunate so much emotion was going on at that time. That's it for today."
World Peace spoke for 41 seconds. A Lakers official interrupted follow-up questions and didn't allow World Peace to answer them. Although he was advised not to speak on it further, World Peace provided more explanations via Twitter.
"Hope James Hardin is ok...," World Peace tweeted. "I remember when I hit by Marc Gasol the same way.. I was spitting up blood and a headache during the game."
World Peace also Tweeted: I just watched the replay again. Oooo.. My celebration of the dunk really was too much. Didn't even see James.. Omg; Looks bad.
And the Lakers were left sounding resigned the NBA would suspend World Peace, including Kobe Bryant ("probably so") and Lakers Coach Mike Brown ("It will be a big blow to us if something like this happens").
The Lakers sounded less definitive on what actually happened.
Bryant said he briefly saw the replay, but insisted he couldn't get a good look to assess whether World Peace's elbow to Harden was intentional. Brown said he didn't see the incident at all, yelling unspecified instructions regarding defensive assignments. And Lakers forward Devin Ebanks said he was too busy marveling over World Peace's dunk to notice his ensuing blow to Harden.
Still, Brown hardly excused World Peace's behavior, which caused Harden to suffer a concussion and miss the rest of the game, as first reported by the Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry.
"I don't want any of my guys kicked out," Brown said. "If somebody gets kicked out in a big game, yeah, you're disappointed. You want him to be on the floor. I'd be wrong to say that's OK for Metta to get kicked out."
World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, earned a one-game suspension for his ejection last year in the waning seconds of Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals against Dallas after delivering a clothesline to J.J. Barea. Artest earned an ejection in Game 2 of the 2009 Western Conference semifinals as a Houston Rocket after storming toward Bryant over an apparent elbow to his throat. And, of course, Artest remains linked to one of the darkest moments in NBA history. In 2004 as an Indiana Pacer, Artest went into the Pistons crowd after beer was thrown at him and punched a fan. The incident sparked an 73-game suspension, the longest penalty for a physical altercation in NBA history, and he received a year's probation for pleading no contest to assault charges.
Artest has since rehabbed his image. He earned the J. Walter Kennedy Citizienship award last year for his efforts raising money for mental health charities, including raffling off his 2010 NBA championship ring. He changed his name to World Peace, an off-beat way to promote the idea. And Lakers players and coaches describe his personality as goofy and well-intentioned.
That's why Bryant sounded skeptical such an incident would hurt World Peace's reputation.
"One play in the heat of the battle all of a sudden changes his perception as a man and as a person?" Bryant said. "All you guys know what a sweet guy he is."
Still, Bryant wished that Harden's "OK," and touted him as "one of my favorite players in the league" and "one of my young boys." Bryant also admitted World Peace will have to temper his emotions.