Lakers forward Metta World Peace, who has been active in bringing attention… (Harry How / Getty Images )
Once the applause calmed down, Metta World Peace cut through the crowd of onlookers.
The eccentric Lakers forward wanted to talk to former WNBA star Chamique Holdsclaw. The two had just shared the stage Wednesday at the Voice Awards at Paramount Studios, where both talked about how they overcame mental health issues. But their bond went beyond addressing a cause they hold dear to them on behalf of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The two grew up together in the projects in Queensbridge, N.Y., and wanted to catch up. So among plenty of mental health experts and fans sharing well wishes, World Peace and Holdsclaw shared new phone numbers, rekindled old memories and then hugged goodbye.
As he took the lectern to accept an award in honor of his numerous work with mental health organizations, it's hardly a coincidence World Peace singled out his childhood friend.
"I definitely want to say how much I love Chamique Holdsclaw," he said.
That bond seems traceable along every step of their lives.
World Peace and Holdsclaw played on the same Boys and Girls Club team, where Holdsclaw started in front of him because she's two years older. Holdsclaw, who described the former Ron Artest as a "gentle giant," recalled how he often pushed opposing players who had tried to play too physical with her.
The friendship continued.
World Peace stormed out of St. John's after two seasons, became the Chicago Bulls' 16th pick in the 1999 NBA draft and quickly established himself as one of the league's best defensive players. Holdsclaw led Tennessee to three consecutive NCAA championships, became the Washington Mystics No. 1 draft choice in 1999 and then was selected the league's rookie of the year and won an Olympic gold medal in subsequent seasons.
They understood each other's struggles.
World Peace admitted he had been addicted to alcohol. World Peace sullied his reputation for his involvement in 2004 with the Palace Brawl, where the former Indiana Pacer drew an 86-game suspension for going into the Pistons crowd and punching a fan after a drink was thrown at him. World Peace's reputation also took a step back last season after earning a seven-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden and giving him a concussion.
"I wish I could be a more perfect person in accepting this award and more of a perfect role model," World Peace said. "But I'm definitely an example."
In 2002, Holdsclaw struggled with the passing of her grandmother June. After suffering through bouts of depression years later, Holdsclaw asked the Mystics to trade her to the Sparks in 2006. That same year, Holdsclaw drank heavily and nearly overdosed on depression medication. She retired before the 2007 season without much explanation.
"I wanted to do everything myself," Holdsclaw said. "I'm the strong person, this athlete and I don't need anybody else. I think it tore the relationship with my family apart."
World Peace and Holdsclaw appeared at the Voice awards showing how things have changed.
World Peace credited his psychologist, Santhi Periasamy, for talking him through his problems, thanking her after Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. He auctioned off his 2010 NBA ring for $651,006 to benefit mental health charities. He testified before Congress on behalf of the Mental Health in Schools Act, which would raise $200 million in grant funding to 200 schools. He appeared in public service announcements and billboards on behalf of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Because of those efforts, World Peace won the 2010-11 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.
"It's admirable, especially for a male athlete to come forth and say these are my struggles, I have to talk to a therapist and this is what I've done," Holdsclaw said about World Peace. "It's so hard for men to open up, especially when you have the stigma associated with it in sports."