Metta World Peace is nothing if not an ever-expanding hyphenate. Already having established dashes between “athlete,” “rapper,” “producer,” “mental health advocate,” “comedian,” and “weatherman,” the latest title added to the small forward's list is “author.” His new children's book, “Metta's Bedtime Stories,” written with Heddrick McBride, was released on May 20 and is a collection of five short stories geared at kids age 4-10. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Xcel University as well as The Artest Foundation, established by Metta's father. I spoke at length by phone with Metta Wednesday about the process of writing this book, his own childhood and, of course, a little basketball. Below is a transcript of the conversation.
Andy Kamenetzky: How did you become interested in writing a children's book in the first place?
Metta World Peace: Well, you know, it was more of a collective effort. It was something that I always wanted to do. I had a couple other books that I was writing, but I wanted to start off writing books for children. We had a couple of other books that we kind of wrote already, so I wanted to figure out what was the best way to launch all these books. We got some books we wrote for adults and things like that, but the main thing was to get started off in the right direction. One thing I always like to do is entertain and inspire. I always like to inspire first, so that was the motivation behind writing the children's books.
AK: Why release the children's book before the books for adults, as opposed to the other way around?
MWP: I thought children's books were a little bit better first, because the kids look up to us and when you can steer a kid in the right direction, it's a really positive thing. When I was a kid, I used to read children's book and children's books inspired me. Dr. Seuss and other books inspired me, so I just wanted to give back.
AK: Which children's books did you specifically enjoy?
MWP: I loved all the Dr. Seuss books. They were real simple but it was kind of fun, you know? I kind of related to them. I thought his books were adventurous. It was easy to read. It was a complex story as a kid, obviously. But at the end, for example, Green Eggs and Ham, if you just give something a try, you might like it. You don't realize these things as children. You don't realize them having a positive influence on you. When we was doing our book, it was like, let's do a book that a kid can relate to. Especially a kid that's coming into his or her own.
I think the first book was good because we're giving kids options in their life. They don't have to have tunnel vision. We wanted to get across to children that you can do anything.
AK: How hard was it to sit down and actually write the book?
MWP: Writing isn't hard because I write rhymes a lot. I write raps a lot. So the writing aspect is not hard. It's just coming up with a collective effort. Me, Heddrick McBride, we all just come up with a collective effort and see what makes sense. But the writing is not hard. It's all about the feeling. You can have good feeling and it (doesn't) come across the right way. Or you could have some good words to say but it's not making no sense. So that's the hard thing when you're writing. We just tried to make sure everything made sense. We were very satisfied with the story.
AK: How actively were you involved with the illustrations, and having the visuals come out the way you pictured in your head?
MWP: At first, it was all black kids. (Laughs) We needed a variety of kids in there, because the world is very diverse. So the guy who did the first design for us, he thought we were just trying to talk to black kids, but I'm like, “No, no, no. We need to talk to talk to all races. We gotta try to accomplish that in a short amount of time.” I thought we did a really good job with that, also.
AK: When you got the draft back with only black kids, were you, like, “Whoa! Whoa!”
MWP: Yeah. We were laughing. Me and Heidi Buech, she runs Xcel University for me, she was just like, “What's going on? What happened to the Asian kids and the Latino kids and the white kids?” (Laughs) So that was the holdup. But it was cool, because we wrote a couple other books [while waiting] and it gave us time to be more consistent.
AK: There's a chapter called “I'm Afraid of the Dark,” which is about a little girl who thinks there's a monster in her room. As a little kid, how active was your imagination in terms of the imaginary monster?
MWP: I think you go through things and you don't know what affects you. But as you get older, even before you reach the age of nine or 10, some kids are afraid of the dark and things like that. It's up to parents, the big brother, the big sister, to make them feel better. And then sometimes a book can make them better also, you know?
I used to be totally afraid of the dark. I was afraid of the dark until I was like, 20 years old.
MWP: Yeah. I (used to) sleep with the TV on. I can sleep in the dark now, but I used to never like to sleep in the dark.
AK: How did you get past this fear?
MWP: Well, as you get older, you become a teenager, and you're only three years removed from ten years old, so you was afraid to sleep in the dark. And as you get older, you get more comfortable with this thing. When you're 18, you're like, “Nah, I'll sleep with the TV on.” When you're 21, it's like, “Okay, whatever. Lights off. Go to bed.”
AK: So at St. John's, did your roommate have to deal with you sleeping with the TV on?
MWP: I always turned the TV on at St. John's. (Laughs)
AK: You also grew up in a rough area as a kid. Were you more scared of what was going on in your imagination or what was going on outside your home that you knew was real?
MWP: Sometimes it was both, because when you see things, you dream about things, you know? And then you gotta dream about things and wake up the next day, and hopefully, some of those dreams are fake. But sometimes it's not about the violence. Sometimes it's just about the environment. And sometimes it's just about the people that are struggling. Sometimes it's about the people who are not taking care about themselves, on drugs, and things like that. Sometimes that's just as disturbing as violence. And then you gotta wake up and experience either violence or depression or frustration or narcotics. You just never know. So that was a concern.
AK: Were you often a scared kid?
MWP: I was an aware kid. I wasn't that scared. I was definitely aware. I was definitely focused on my surroundings, focused on how I would react if I had to react, how I would retaliate if I had to retaliate. But it was more of a focus awareness and things like that. That was my main thing growing up, just staying focused.
AK: Where did you draw the inspiration for the stories in the book?
MWP: It's creative. It's definitely a team effort. I'm pretty creative. I do a lot of different things. I'm into social networking when I'm doing interviews. And Heddrick McBride is really creative. He was going back and forth on how can we create something where sometimes kids dream and you don't notice what you're dreaming about. Sometimes kids might dream they're going to the bathroom and they wet the bed. Just different things that could affect the dream. We kind of wanted to be able to touch all of that.
AK: How do you think this book will help your quest to raise awareness about mental health awareness and provide help for those who might need it?
MWP: I think it brings that awareness and also hopefully can bring a parent closer to their child. Kids love when you read to them at night. Kids love that. And sometimes when you don't read to your child at night, as they get older, they don't like to read. So it's important. I hope this book brings a parent closer to their child.
AK: Are you prepared to go head-to-head with Phil Jackson when it comes to book sales?
MWP: Well, there's no competing with Eleven Rings. I'll tell you that right now. I can't wait to read that book.
AK: Are you curious to see what he said about you?
MWP: Phil wrote some things about me and I felt it was pretty accurate. I'm happy to be in his book because I'm also happy to have played for him. I always wanted to play for him because I was always a Chicago Bulls fan when I was a kid. So it's an honor being in Phil Jackson's book.
AK: Have you made a decision about your player option for next season?
MWP: Not really. I definitely want to be a Laker next year, so that's my only concern.
AK: I imagine you've heard the talk about the team possibly amnestying you, and you just mentioned how much you want to stay with the team. If your Laker career did end after this past season, how do you think you'll feel about your time in L.A.?
MWP: Well, I would probably have to wait until something were to happen, you know? I can't really predict the future, so I don't really know how to answer that.
AK: How often do you think about that unknown, not knowing what the front office will decide to do?
MWP: Not at all. I just try to focus on my future, focus on things that I can control.
AK: Having played the Spurs in the first round, are you in any way surprised to see them in the Finals?
MWP: It's not surprising because they took advantage of opportunities. The Spurs, they have the type of coach to do everything the right way. And as long as they do everything the right way, or try to do everything the right way, the percentages are that if enough teams make mistakes, the Spurs will win. The Spurs are just playing Spurs basketball. They're not doing anything else. So many other teams, either they're not ready, they don't have the champion mind frame. Or they're just making a lot of mistakes, and the Spurs take advantage of all of them.
AK: How rare is a coach like Gregg Popovich who's that good at capitalizing on mistakes in the moment and milking them for all its worth?
MWP: Oh, yeah. He definitely milks it. He's smart, man. I don't really know his background. I've never heard him talk. I might have personally heard him say 10 words total. I don't really know Pop, but something he's doing is right and every coach that probably played for him learned a little bit. So it's really cool.