Did Delonte West Get A Raw Deal?

Over at Slate, David Haglund catches up with Delonte West, temporarily (he hopes) exiled to China for the sin of being branded mentally ill. It contains lengthy, honest (he doesn't know any other way to be) chats with West, in which the 30-year-old wonders aloud if maybe the problem's not in his head, but with the NBA.

Speaking with West on the phone last fall, I mentioned that an increasing number of teams were bringing in psychologists and psychiatrists to work with players. "I guess everybody crazy now, huh?" he quipped. "Maybe I'm not the only one then. Maybe there's something to that." Then he turned more serious. "Maybe it's not a 'crazy' thing. Maybe it's just a highly intense, stressful type of job that puts a lot of pressure on guys to perform and play."

West now rejects an earlier diagnosis of bipolarity. He acknowledges dealing with periods of depression, but chalks up his episodes to his youth and an inability to speak up for himself.

"Being a little older now, and looking back, you see things would have been a little different if I just told them what was really bothering me: 'I don't think that I am bipolar. That medicine that you're giving me, I don't need that. This is what's bothering me. This is why I'm upset. This is why I cry at nighttime.' But I didn't know how to say that."

The thesis of Haglund's piece is that West's NBA career was done in by media narrative as much as by his actions. When a player gets tagged with mental illness, sportswriters can fall prey to the temptation to squeeze him into the most basic fall-and-redemption storyline. Everything West did that would be viewed in isolated contexts for other players—his weapons arrest, a locker room blowup, a late-night angry Twitter spree—were inevitably presented through the lens of mental illness. It's a perception West was never able to shake, and one that he believes infected front offices who wouldn't give him a look because of it.


It's a theory with some weight behind it, but even if you don't buy that he's suffering from an unfair stigma, this is a profile worth reading just for the look at how the NBA seems particularly ill-prepared to deal with a player like West.

Why Isn't Delonte West in the NBA? [Slate]