Walking down Metta memory lane

What's the first thing that springs to mind when I think back on two seasons of covering Ron Artest, plus two seasons of covering Metta World Peace in Los Angeles?

"I can't remember."

It was World Peace's go-to answer in the postgame locker room when we asked about anything that made him remotely uncomfortable -- a foul, a missed shot, a turnover, a referee's decision, a teammate's shoddy play.

But despite all the times he feigned memory loss, for me, covering the guy was unforgettable.

He is one of the game's true characters, a living contradiction as a fierce, muscle-bound competitor with the wacky, off-the-wall humor of a cartoon character.

Phil Jackson once described him as a "naïve, innocent lamb."

James Harden once received a vicious, violent elbow from that lamb, right in the chops.

He was capable of inspiring you -- coming back to the court just 12 days after knee surgery last season; working day and night to lose more than 20 pounds in the middle of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign; opening up about a painful childhood to try to erase the stigma and discrimination attached to those with mental health disabilities and really becoming a champion of the cause.

He was capable of infuriating you -- bullying younger players like Brandon Knight and Michael Beasley both physically and verbally without prompt; mocking former Lakers head coach Mike Brown for his background as a video coordinator.

And he was capable of making you shake your head and laugh -- making one of his haphazard failed coast-to-coast attempts that made you hear the "Benny Hill Show" theme song in your head; choosing to wear No. 37 to honor the number of Michael Jackson's No. 1 chart-topping singles; punctuating a successful play by kissing his biceps and blowing kisses to the crowd.

And through it all, he gave Lakers fans a boatload of memories.

From the serendipitous 2010 playoff run that resulted in three all-time great Laker moments:

1. His game-winning putback layup (cleaning up a Kobe Bryant miss) in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, assuring L.A. would go into Phoenix up 3-2 for Game 6, rather than facing a potential elimination game on the road.

2. His game-sealing 3-pointer in Game 7 of the NBA Finals against Boston (cleaning up a night where Bryant missed 18 of the 24 shots he attempted) that doubled L.A.'s lead from three to six with exactly one minute remaining.

3. His scene-stealing comments to the media following the game where he was joined by nine members of his family on stage with him as he dropped the following classic one-liners:

- "I got Wheaties!"

- "Acknowledge me, please!"

- "Why are you staring at me, daughter?"

- "I just can't wait to go to the club."

- "He never passes me the ball, and he passed me the ball! Kobe passed me the ball!"

- "(Phil) can speak to you. He don't even need a microphone. You can hear him in your head, 'Ron, don't shoot. Don't shoot.' I said, 'Whatever! Bong! Three! Whoo-hoo! Yes!"

To the everyday absurdities of him messing up Right Said Fred's lyrics by saying he was "too sexy for his cat," or showing up on a local newscast to do the weather, or spraying Lamar Odom's patented cologne on Lakers radio voice John Ireland during a live TV interview.

But as much as the sideshow threatened to overtake the part of performance that mattered -- contributing to wins -- World Peace always seemed to be able to dial back the distractions and remind us that he still cooked a good meal, even it came with a fancy centerpiece on the table.

In the end, World Peace leaves L.A. as one of the most caring players a teammate could ever hope to share a locker room with, and one of the most determined players an opponent could ever hope to face.