For as long as he can remember, West has known he suffers from bipolar disorder. He just didn’t think it had to be public knowledge until he was arrested and had to share the information to defend himself in court.
Bipolar disorder is a complex mood disorder that affects people in varying ways. But West breaks down his condition like he would a defense. “Sadness is a normal human emotion,” begins West. “And there’s a mechanism that kicks in and lets you know it’s time to stop being sad. With bipolar, that mechanism is out, so you don’t even know when you’re sad.”
People used to wonder why Delonte would sometimes look catatonic on the bench. People used to wonder why Delonte wouldn’t smile after a good game or big win. Delonte, himself, would also wonder.
“After we win a game, and I hit the winner and everyone is screaming my name I should feel good, but I might be down in the slums,” says West. “I might have to go to the bathroom and say to myself, D, snap out of it. Come on baby! Smile. Life’s good.”
When news of West’s condition broke, then-coach Mike Brown handled the player and the situation well. A lot of fans didn’t, though. The starting guard became a stigma and an excuse for things that went wrong with the team. “They put it all in one sentence,” West says without a trace of bitterness. “Delonte’s riding a motorcycle, he’s bipolar and that’s why he missed that shot, period.”
This monsoon of criticism exacerbated his problems, which partly explains why he missed games and shunned the media during his final season on the Cavs. Now, though, after seeking guidance from a circle of doctors and lawyers, West is ready to own his condition.
“We’re going through the process of looking at different bipolar foundations to see which one will be the perfect fit,” Fassett says. “This is gonna make a major impact for other people suffering from it. It’s gonna remind people that we’re all still human beings.”
While publicizing his illness hasn’t necessarily helped his career—the Cavs let the former first-round pick go after the ’09-10 season and only the Celtics showed real interest, albeit with a lot of contractual stipulations—but, and this is important to West, it’s helped people dealing with similar conditions.
Says Delonte: “Parents come to me and say, ‘Thank you. My son’s bipolar and nobody understands him, and it just means so much for you to speak on it.’ I hear that so much from people, it’s unreal.”
Hours before the afternoon visit to the Lincoln Memorial, our SUV drops us off at a day camp. The counselors are antsy because we’re running late, and I’m anxious because Delonte has no idea what he’s going to say to the campers.
After a brief but captivating introduction, West opens the floor to questions. One of the smallest boys in the room raises his hand and, after being called on, shyly asks, “Do you know any other basketball players?”
“I know too many basketball players,” West says, walking toward the camper. “Do you play?” The boy, Andrew, nods meekly. “Well,” West answers, “now I know one more.”
As the little man smiles and as the counselors clap and the campers cheer, West takes the boy’s hand in his and says, “See this hand here? This hand has shook with Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett…and now it’s shaken yours, too.” Andrew’s face couldn’t contain his pride at that moment.
“Delonte would do anything for a random child,” Uncle Rudy says later. “Delonte will be the last one to the bus if he has autographs to sign. He’ll wait ’til the very last kid is content.”
A self-described pitbull on the court, West is anything but off of it, especially when it comes to his people. Listening to those who know him speak and watching him finesse three different crowds of kids in one day, as he’s done multiple days this summer, West’s reputation as a crazy, gun-wielding, mother-!!ing (“Who knows where that rumor came from? Who knows who really started it,” is what he’ll say on the topic of Gloria James) basketball player couldn’t seem further from the truth.
“At the end of the day, Delonte would take his life for you,” says Danielle West, Delonte’s younger sister, who just graduated college thanks to her tuiton-paying older brother.
As the sun begins to set, Delonte tells everyone to follow him to his backyard and then down a short path that leads to a bank of the Potomac River. As we sit there, studying the water, studying his life, West says he can see the tides turning. He doesn’t really care if anyone else sees them, though.
“Print this: I ain’t lookin’ for no !! to cry on. I’m just saying what it is. Hopefully, one day people won’t look at me as the boogieman.”
Currently a free agent, West has a plan for his post-lockout future—sign a multi-year deal that grants him financial security. Off the court, he knows he can’t expunge his record, but he hopes his work with the bipolar community becomes the reason that he’s talked about.
Finished for the moment, with the sun casting a calming reflection on the river behind him and his village chaotically milling about all around him, West turns toward the photographer’s camera and offers up a wide smile. Freedom has never felt so good. http://www.slamonline.com/online/the...lar-and-all/#1