Plaschke | Many questioned Metta World Peace’s arrival, but he’ll leave as an unquestioned champ

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He joined the in the summer of 2009 as a troublemaker, a pariah, a plague.

was signed, walked, and an championship locker room was suddenly in peril.

“What are they thinking? What are they doing?” I wrote in this newspaper. “They send the kid packing for an aging nut whose greatest hits have occurred on the head of fans.”

Eight years later, a lot more has changed than just the name.

On Tuesday night at Staples Center, Metta World Peace played probably his last home game as a Laker, and the roar was eternal.

He leaves here not as a bad actor, but as a role model. He didn’t infect the Lakers’ locker room, he enriched it. The biggest hit of his career didn’t come in the stands, but from behind the three-point line, a shot that won a championship.

“Metta’s story is incredible,” said Lakers coach .

World Peace, now 37, has barely played this season, his main role being a valued mentor to the Lakers’ younger players. But in honor of that incredible story, Walton started him in the final home game of the season against the .

The cheers were huge. Every time he touched the ball, the noise grew. He was scoreless in the first half but then, as if on cue, he filled it up in the home stretch, making seven shots in the second half, including a trio of three pointers in the fourth quarter en route to a season-high 18 points as the crowd stood and gestured and screamed with glee.

“Met-ta, Met-ta, Met-ta,” they chanted.

“Metta World Peeeeeace!” intoned public address announcer Lawrence Tanter with delight.

It wasn’t going for 60 points in last season’s finale, but it was a blast, and in a perfect ending, the guy who was once reviled for dishonoring the game of basketball showed it the utmost respect.

Holding the ball in the final seconds with the Lakers leading by a dozen and seemingly every fan and teammate cheering for him to take one last shot, World Peace shook his head and stood still until the shot clock expired. He was clearly, classily unwilling to show up the Pelicans in a 108-96 Lakers victory.

He further endeared himself to fans by auctioning off his championship ring for various mental health charities. The next season, his community work led to him winning the league’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. Soon thereafter, he changed his name and, while he admitted Tuesday it was initially a lark, the moniker stuck.

The guy known for fighting became renowned for forging locker room peace, dispensing his calming wisdom these last two seasons with all these young Lakers.

The Lakers would probably retain World Peace as a coach, but he said he would like to play two more years to give him 20 professional seasons, so the odds of him returning here are slim. “If you push me to the limit, I’ll show you want I can really do,” he said. “That’s why I was here, and I feel like I accomplished that, I feel like I helped some people with that winning attitude.”

He arrived here having been pushed to that limit. Over the next eight years we saw what he really could do.

We are standing and cheering still.

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