At 25, Delonte West was the fourth-leading scorer on a LeBron James-led Cavaliers team that won 66 games and fell two wins short of an NBA Finals appearance. At 30, West hasn't taken the court in 15 months following two suspensions and his release from the Mavericks during the 2012-13 preseason.
Between then and now, West was arrested while driving erratically on a motorcycle with a shotgun strapped to his back and was linked to an alleged relationship with Gloria James, LeBron's mother, in unsubstantiated online rumors. He's also opened up about his bipolar disorder and campaigned for a job on Twitter, to no avail.
With another summer free-agency period nearly complete -- and no offers yet -- West is in a position to reflect back on what exactly went wrong over the last five years.
The Boston Globe reports that West is feeling the effect of his missteps and the Gloria James rumors, which surfaced in May 2010 as the Cavaliers were in the process of being eliminated from the playoffs by the Celtics.
"For me, I don’t think being bipolar was my issue. I don’t think it ever was. ... That kind of been my issue was self-loathing, it never was (being) bipolar. I wasn’t considered bipolar before my Desperado (carrying guns on a motorcycle) incident as people like to describe it. From them on, a failed marriage after two months, lost some contracts and endorsements, and the center of everybody’s jokes.
"And the best player in the world (LeBron James), [I] allegedly had sex with his mother. Growing up in the hood, that’s the worst thing you could say is something about somebody’s mother. That would get you punched in the face. That hits home.”
West has steadfastly denied those rumors but said it is something he has been presented with constantly.
“You have ignorance, people yell across the Walmart, ‘Yeah how did that go (with LeBron’s mother)?’ I gotta deal with that. So there was some self loathing, licking my wounds, shying away from the laughter. It seemed like everything I did was being attached to some type of bipolarism or being crazy. That all stimulated from an incident that happened for years ago, so it seemed like that’s the root of it, that’s making me the crazy person or bipolar person and I’m trying to break away from the stigma of it.”
West's latest comments don't totally acknowledge his rocky road in Dallas, which included reports of a locker room outburst, team rules violations, and Twitter diatribes about his relationship with the Mavericks organization. Every negative headline -- no matter how seemingly unimportant -- carries a snowball effect once a player gets into serious off-court trouble. West was involved in a 2010 fight with teammate Von Wafer while in Boston and snapped off a profane rant about a sportswriter on Twitter in 2012; those incidents were viewed by virtually everyone through the prism of West's previous legal trouble. Fair or not, that is one of the costs of being a well-known, handsomely-paid athlete with highly-unusual off-court legal problems.
In that light, you can't help but think West will one day be the perfect guest speaker at the NBA's Rookie Transition Program. West laid out his full side of the story regarding his 2009 arrest in a must-read 2011 Slam Magazine story, but it was too little, too late. The damage to his reputation had already been done; his place as an easy punchline had already been sealed. Who better to preach the message of "every decision counts" than West? In the meantime, it's quite possible that West, despite his remorse, has exhausted his supply of second chances. That's no easy feat in the NBA.