For his entire career, his entire life perhaps – whether he was Ron Artest from Queensbridge or Metta World Peace out in L.A. – the desire has been the same.
Fit in. Be liked. Be one of the guys. Get out on the basketball court and win every last battle, be it a stray rebound or NBA title.
It's been a tortured process always, filled with flare-ups big and small, with suspensions minor and memorable. It's always been the same, just when you think you can count on the guy, he does something to prove you can't.
"The NBA suspended World Peace on Tuesday" is a headline that will cause laughs for everyone who doesn't deep down feel for the man in the middle. It's seven games this time for M.W.P., a pittance compared to the 86 he missed for charging into the stands in Auburn Hills, Mich., in 2004, looking to pummel whoever threw a beer at him.
This one hurts plenty though because he's 32 now and supposed to be past this nonsense. He's embraced (publicly even) psychotherapy. He's talked such a good game. He even changed his name. And it hurts because it'll cost the Los Angeles Lakers, cost them big time.
They could easily wind up in a brutal series with, say, the Dallas Mavericks or Memphis Grizzlies and never make it to the second round, never get their erratic forward back.
[ Video: Defending Metta World Peace ]
Even then, it'll be back to square one with M.W.P., a guy trying to prove to his teammates he can be trusted when the truth is he probably can't.
"This is him," said Fran Fraschilla, the ESPN college broadcaster who coached Artest at St. John's. "You go back to when I first met him, 14 or 15 years old at La Salle Academy in New York, and his greatest strength has always been his biggest weakness – that true competitive edge.
"He is an over-the-top competitor. It's what made him the player he is and what's gotten him in trouble."
Fraschilla was like every other coach, all of the other mentors who tried to corral that passion. "I thought I could control him because back then I was crazy," Fraschilla said. "With New York kids like him, you had to show them you had no fear, that you weren't afraid of them. And I wasn't.
"But in the end, he just can't control himself."
That has to be terrifying for the Lakers. Suspensions haven't gotten World Peace to think before he acts. Fines haven't done it. Phil Jackson couldn't reach him. Mike Brown doesn't stand a chance. Nothing has gotten through enough that in a tense moment when he's about to act out, he pulls back.
Not national shame or heckling crowds or true internal pain for his actions.
[ Related: M.W.P. tweets apology ]
Time and time again he tries to make progress, turn a new leaf, attempt a new approach. No one doubts he means it. Yet time and time again there he is, this time Sunday throwing an elbow at Oklahoma City's James Harden for no apparent reason.
Look at the tape, Franschilla said. Look at all the tapes. It's generally M.W.P. locked in some major competition and taking it too far. Celebrating a big dunk. Mano-a-mano with Ben Wallace, then passive-aggressively lying on the scorer's table when he gets hit by a beer. Slamming J.J. Barea a year ago. Once, when he was in Houston, going after Kobe Bryant.
Right in the middle of the action it all boils over. Where everyone else understands the boundary, he doesn't.
Fraschilla isn't excusing any of it. He's just explaining it.
"It's always borne out of that over-the-top competitiveness," Fraschilla said. "Almost all his incidents have come on the court. There's been very little off-the-court trouble."
Indeed, World Peace won the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award just a year ago. He's known for acts of charity great and small. He's promoted mental health and made humanitarian trips to Africa. He can be fascinating to speak with, even open to discuss any problem in his life.
No, he hasn't been perfect, but in the rags-to-riches tale from that housing project in Queens – he once had a friend murdered during a game when someone broke off the scorer's table leg and stabbed him – it's been mostly good away from the court, considering all of that life progression.
"I love that guy," Fraschilla said. "I just wish he wasn't such a knucklehead."
Everyone does. He could be a great story, the loveable reformed brute. Instead it's a circle that shows no signs of ever breaking.
The Lakers are in the same place everyone has been with M.W.P., hoping he delivers the good stuff before the inevitable blowup. They have no more control than anyone ever has. Neither does World Peace for that matter.
He helped the Lakers win it all in 2010. He still does so much of the dirty work for the team. He is still an asset on the court and in the locker room.
But then there is this: On the eve of the playoffs, he gets suspended. The Lakers' rotation is rocked, installing doubt and leaving an L.A. team that already had an uphill climb with a steeper challenge.
That's letting down your teammates – the guys whose approval and trust he's always coveted.
World Peace has apologized and that's his way also. "He always knows he did wrong," Fraschilla said. "He's sorry. He means it. It's just that he acts and then thinks.
"He's a competitor, it'll kill him not to be out there."
The question is whether it'll kill the Lakers' postseason first.
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