Barbara Barker Newsday sports writer Barbara Barker

Barbara Barker is an award-winning sports features writer and columnist who has covered sports in New York for

Metta World Peace wants to help men be better fathers.

The NBA player formerly known as Ron Artest wants it so badly that he is raffling off the 2003-04 award he earned as NBA Defensive Player of the Year on mettaworldpeace.com in the hope of raising $2 million. The money will go to something he calls his Family Defense Fund, a charity that supports parenting and mental health initiatives.

“There’s nothing more important than family,” World Peace said in a phone interview last week when asked why he is willing to part with a trophy that he admits means something to him.

In the twilight of his career — he is 36 years old and playing on a non-guaranteed contract for the Lakers after playing in China last season — World Peace seems to have found his calling.

Sure, there are people who will always consider World Peace a thug, who can’t let go of the image of him going after a fan in the Malice at the Palace.

And that is too bad. Because few players have been as generous with their time and money as World Peace has.

The former St. John’s star has talked openly about his battles with depression in the hope of de-stigmatizing mental illness, lobbied Congress for funding for mental health programs and donated $671,000 from his raffle of the NBA championship ring that he won with the Lakers in 2010.

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Now World Peace has turned his attention toward families. He said there are too many fathers out there who are estranged from their children, a situation he believes hurts everyone involved. It has prompted him to get involved in a number of projects that he hopes will help strengthen the family, including an award-winning documentary “When the Bell Rings” that can be watched on Amazon.

World Peace is the executive producer of the film that chronicles the story of David “Dino” Wells, a former elite boxer who attempts to make a comeback at the age of 40 after being out of the sport for 15 years. At the same time, Wells is battling to reunite with his estranged son and become the father he never had while growing up.

“Dino’s story could have been mine,” World Peace said. “The fact that his family was severed. It was disconnected. I have friends that are in that same situation. When I was 13, I was in that situation. My family was disconnected . . . My parents separated when I was 13. That’s traumatizing.”

World Peace was able to remain close to his father, Ron Artest Sr., but said he has friends who have never met their fathers. What he likes about Wells’ story is that “he’s trying to find himself and reach for happiness” even at a later stage of life.

World Peace has had his own challenges as a parent. He has one son, Jeron, with his college girlfriend from St. John’s. He has three more children with his former wife, Kimsha Artest, a former star on VH1’s basketball wives. All four children live in Los Angeles with him, and his two sons, Jeron and Ron III, play high school basketball there.

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“I started off, I was a young father, and that’s challenging,” World Peace said. “And now I’m a 36-year-old man raising teenagers. That’s challenging also.”

Still, he knows he is lucky not to have the financial stress that many young families do. One of the programs that his Family Defense Fund runs is designed to help families “understand economics” and how to budget for a family.

“If you can’t eat, there’s going to be a lot of stress in the household,” World Peace said. “All of our programs focus on family-building.”

If there’s one thing that World Peace would like people to take away from “When the Bell Rings,” it’s that it’s not too late” to try to put your life back on track, to try to get involved in your children’s lives.

Said World Peace: “I think I’m an involved dad. Sometimes I don’t know how bad or good I am. But I think I’m involved.”

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Sometimes that’s all that matters.