DENVER - JANUARY 08: Delonte West #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during warm ups prior to ... [+] facing the Denver Nuggets during NBA action at Pepsi Center on January 8, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Cavaliers 99-97. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
One of the saddest parts of Delonte Wests downfall is that he didnt suffer in silence. More than 10 years ago, the former NBA star revealed his lifelong battle with bipolar disorder. One day following practice, West opened up to reporters, explaining why he took a recent leave of absence from his team, the Cavaliers.
Earlier that month, West had blown up at a high school referee who was officiating one of Clevelands training camp scrimmages. The episode terrified him.
I felt a feeling of anger and I just wanted to throw it all away and quit the team," he told reporters at the time, via ESPN. I needed help.
Its apparent Wests demons are still haunting him. Disturbing video emerged late Monday of West getting brutally beaten in the streets of Washington D.C. by an unidentifiable person. In a second video, which was seemingly taken after the altercation, a deranged-looking West is seated on the sidewalk and rambling incoherently.
The unsettling footage has prompted many in the sports world to publicly express their concerns for West, including his former coach at St. Josephs, Phil Martelli, and college backcourt mate, Jameer Nelson. Some of the most poignant words came from Royce White, whose own professional basketball career was cut short due to mental health issues. Sad to hear the news about Delonte West. We failed him, he tweeted. We should be talking about mental health honestly all the time, not just when celebrities are in crisis.
For years, the world knew about Wests struggles with mental health. But that didnt stop everyone from laughing.
It doesnt seem so funny now.
Wests candor about bipolar disorder did not spare him from brutal mockery online during Twitters infancy, or from becoming tabloid fodder. In September 2009, he was arrested for carrying three guns during a traffic stop while driving a three-wheeled motorcycle. Even NPR couldnt ignore the storys hilarity. Delonte West of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers is apparently serious about his role as a shooting guard. Too serious, the lede reads from National Public Radio, where hosts do not speak above hushed tones.
Next came one of the most infamously unfounded scandals in sports history: rumors of West sleeping with LeBron James mom. The phony tip started as an anonymous email citing an anonymous source in Clevelands front office, which was good enough for the gossip website, Perez Hilton, to publish. The rumor reached such a fever pitch, LeBron was eventually forced to deny the allegations publicly more than two years after they had first surfaced.
West has largely disappeared from the public sphere in recent years, save for some troubling photos of him standing shoeless outside of a fast-food restaurant in Houston or panhandling in Maryland. The Daily Mail also posted a breathless story featuring many photos of Wests dilapidated estate in suburban Maryland and the revelation he was being sued by Bank of America over an unpaid credit card debt of nearly $108,000.
The widespread sympathy for West now stands in stark contrast to the laughs that were once issued at his expense. Woke Bill Simmons inducted West into his Tyson Zone for crazy athletes; publications frequently ranked West as one of the NBAs craziest players. Over time, West began to downplay his bipolar disorder, even as he was candid about his other struggles.
In a 2015 Washington Post profile, The fall and rise of Delonte West, the ex-guard, who was playing in the NBAs Development League at the time, opened up about his history of suicide attempts and current financial struggles. The piece includes an anecdote about West being unable to heat his eight-bedroom mansion. He blew through his $16 million fortune.
In the same article, however, West walks back his bipolar diagnosis. I am bipolar just like the rest of us in the world, he told Rick Maese. So bipolar is defined as something sad happens, youre sad. Something happy happens, youre happy. I think pretty much everyone in the world is like that. Now theres different levels. How long do you stay sad? How does it affect your behavior? How do you handle these emotions?
In just five years, the conversation surrounding mental health has changed exponentially, and especially in the world of sports. After several star players spoke out about their mental health challenges, including Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan, the NBA mandated each team employ at least one mental health professional on their staff. The environment is more open now.
West tried to expand the dialogue 12 years ago, but people werent ready. The public outreach is making up for desperately lost time.
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Delonte Wests Mental Illness, Once Treated As A Joke, Was Never A Laughing Matter - Forbes
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