By Sean Hartnett
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Back in 1999, the New York Knicks held the 15th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. It appeared obvious they would select a defensive phenom out of St. John’s who at the time was simply known as Ron Artest.
Instead, the Knicks opted to draft injury-prone French center Frederic Weis. The selection sparked immediate outrage among the Knicks fan base. New Yorkers studied Artest closely during his high school days at La Salle Academy and celebrated his rise to prominence on the Big East scene with the late-90s Johnnies.
It made too much sense, yet the Knicks passed on Artest — who fell conveniently to the Chicago Bulls one pick later at No. 16. His tenacious, tough-defending style would have fit right in with Jeff Van Gundy’s hard-nosed group that was coming off an appearance in the 1999 NBA Finals.
Weis never made it across the pond and recurring back injuries forced him to retire from basketball in 2011. A mere mention of his name still sends shivers up the backs of Knicks diehards.
It wasn’t detested former general manager Scott Layden who chose Weis over Artest. The culprit was Ed Tapscott, who served as interim Knicks GM following the team’s rash decision to fire highly-successful executive Ernie Grunfeld after the Knicks slumped to 21-21 during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
The lasting image of the blundered selection of Weis was what the French media dubbed as “Le Dunk de la Mort,” otherwise known in English as “The Dunk of Death.” Vince Carter’s thunderous posterizing of Weis at the 2000 Sydney Olympics added further insult to the Knicks’ abhorrent and inexplicable draft choice.
REFORMED ARTEST READY TO FILL MUCH-NEEDED ROLE AS KNICKS’ INTENSE DEFENDER
At 33, a reformed Artest is now famously known as Metta World Peace. He’s far-removed from the wild child who admittedly drank Hennessy cognac at halftime as a rookie and applied to Circuit City to receive employee discounts and later was reviled by basketball fans nationwide for his role in giving the NBA a black eye during “The Malice at the Palace” in 2004.
World Peace has joined the Knicks on a two-year deal worth $3.2 million, according to Yahoo Sports. The second year of the contract is a player option.
He’s still enigmatic, he’s still eccentric. But he’s no longer a hard-drinker playing the bad-guy role.
“I’m very excited. I don’t really drink that much, so I don’t know how I’ll celebrate it. Maybe with some water,” he joked while being interviewed during the Knicks’ Summer League broadcast.
What hasn’t changed is the warrior’s mentality that he brings to the hardwood. World Peace’s renowned tenacity is exactly what the Knicks needed to add to their defensively-inept roster.
The Knicks ranked tied for 25th overall in total rebounds per game, tied for 11th in steals per game and finished dead-last in blocks per game in 2012-13.
“The team is amazing, the players. I’m excited to play and hustle,” World Peace said at the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas.
At 33, he still has a lot of life left in his legs and is coming off a rejuvenated final season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
World Peace averaged 12.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.6 blocks per game in 75 games for the Lakers last season.
It’s been a long wait for World Peace to finally get his chance to suit up for the Knicks. The Queensbridge native’s homecoming will certainly add a lot of excitement and buzz to Madison Square Garden.
I’m willing to bet that World Peace will become an immediate Garden favorite and knowledgeable Knicks fans will appreciate his old-school hustle and desire.
World Peace announced via Twitter he will be wearing number 51.
Follow Sean on Twitter — @HartnettHockey.
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