— The possum should’ve been a tipoff. When the production assistant swapped Chiclet, a tiny terrier blend, for an animal whose career options are typically limited to Rabies Enthusiast or Roadkill Victim, he should’ve known something was up.
But Ron Artest rolled with it, still enthusiastically filming a (fake) public service announcement for Critters United, the animal rights organization whose oversized logo was printed on his T-shirt. Artest read cue cards and warily attempted to upsell a vulture, a python and a porcupine before finally realizing that he was being pranked by Jimmy Kimmel.
You can’t help but wonder whether Artest has channeled his inner Kimmel or Kutcher and is punking the rest of us now by claiming that he’s changing his name to Metta World Peace. If Artest goes through with it, not only will he trade the top of the Lakers’ alphabetical roster for the bottom slot below Luke Walton, he’ll also notch one of the most bizarre name swaps since a chubby Texan bought a Fender and a fog machine and started referring to himself as Meat Loaf.
Artest has already submitted the official forms to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, according to his now-former publicist, who resigned shortly after confirming the story. He has a hearing in August, when he’ll possibly explain why MWP are the initials he'll be monogramming on his next set of hand towels.
“Metta” is described by Buddhists as “benevolence toward all beings without discrimination” although known antagonizer Artest might’ve misread that as ‘been violent’. (If he'd already un-Artested himself before introducing JJ Barea to his forearm during the NBA playoffs, how many headlines would've said "PEACE GETS METTA-PHYSICAL"? None of them? OK, just checking.)
But what if Artest unknowingly started a trend and several other athletes start lining up for their own sets of Superior Court paperwork? Just in case, here are my suggestions for what names they should type in 10-point Times New Roman.
Lasta Merican: Despite his No. 9 ATP world ranking, most of us wouldn’t recognize Mardy Fish if he trimmed his beard in our guest bathroom. The 29-year-old made the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the first time in his career and is the only American — male or female — who hasn’t already emptied their locker and booked a return flight back from England.
Venus and Serena Williams were eliminated within several hours of each other, while Andy Roddick spent last Friday afternoon shoving his collection of Lacoste logos into his suitcase. Fish will face defending champion Rafael Nadal on Wednesday. He’ll be the one with the beard.
Notta Shocker: World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki is leaving yet another Grand Slam on a weekday after falling to Dominika Cibulkova on Monday. Wozniacki has built her resume — and ranking — by winning tournaments named for women’s magazines or forms of life insurance but has been consistently inconsistent in the majors.
“To be honest, I don’t really care what people think or say or do,” Wozniacki said after her loss. “I did my best but it wasn’t good enough.” Harsh, Woz. After winning the Family Circle in April, it sounds like she's a lock for the Bitter Homes & Gardens too.
Lotta Brittlebones: The 34-44 bottom-feeding Florida Marlins have pulled former manager Jack McKeon out of their storage closet, naming him interim manager and ensuring that their clubhouse will smell like stale cigars and empty Ensure cans. The 80-year old (can we just call him Ochocero?) hasn’t skippered a team since retiring from the Marlins in 2005 and becomes the second oldest manager in MLB history, behind 87-year-old Connie Mack.
But despite the jokes that are buzzing around like seniors on Rascal scooters, McKeon might bring some stability to South Florida for the back half of the season. His first act as manager? To bench shortstop Hanley Ramirez because McKeon “didn’t like the way he was running.”
Respect your elders, kids. And somebody get that man a cigar.
Yetta Gain: The Tour de France starts this weekend and defending champion Alberto Contador will be climbing toward Mont des Allouettes with an oversized asterisk strapped to his back.
It’s impossible to separate professional cycling from doping allegations, especially when five of the past seven Tour winners — dating back to 1996 — have been accused of cheating (Contador, Lance Armstrong), later suspended for violations (Marco Pantani, Bjarne Riis), banned from the Tour entirely (Jan Ullrich) or were later named the winner by default (Oscar Pereiro, who was given the title after Floyd Landis doped all over it).
Last year, Contador tested positive for clenbuterol and was suspended, although his mandatory one-year ban from professional cycling was overturned on appeal. Contador claimed that he had a positive test only after being exposed to tainted beef. Oddly enough, Florence Henderson used the same excuse in her autobiography.
Launcha Nother Three: Sacramento, meet Jimmer Fredette. Jimmer, meet Sacramento. When asked about Ron Artest’s potential name change, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said “I’m an advocate for world peace,” which is probably a nicer way of saying Metta Betta Gettit Together.
Or maybe he’s just relieved. Artest could've gone with "Meat Loaf."