Three days into his comeback to Boston, three days into the revival of his public image, and three days into a journey he hopes will net his first NBA championship, Delonte West continues to push himself.
Long after his Boston Celtics teammates ice their aching knees, toss on their sandals and head for the gym exits, West shoots jumpers by himself. And why not? Basketball is his safe haven. It’s where he feels most comfortable and it’s where his problems go away. It’s also where his salvation can begin, in the eyes of a general public that considers him some sort of monster.
“I’ve been given this opportunity to prove to the NBA and the world that I’m a good person,” West told Comcast Sports. He hopes his behavior this season and beyond will encourage people to “decipher between the human being and the bad decisions.”
Those bad decisions led to a 10-game suspension West will begin when the season starts. West will miss basketball, miss being with his teammates, but he takes full blame for his crime.
“To all those young kids out there, that’s what happens when you make bad decisions. You got to pay for them,” he said. “I’ll continue to put my work in so when my suspension is up I’ll be ready to go whenever Doc calls on me.”
There are no excuses coming from West’s lips, nothing but himself to blame for the night last September he took his three-wheeled motorcycle, a guitar case and three firearms for a violent ride. He acknowledges he has made mistakes, and like a man has admitted them and confronted them. When West’s 10-game suspension finishes his punishment will have been fulfilled, but his errors won’t be left behind so quickly. He will be reminded of them in every opponent’s gym, every time his name is used as a punch line. He will be reminded of them each time he reads the newspaper or listens to the radio and his past is mentioned.
Nobody should forget Delonte’s dance with the devil, Delonte included. He has a long journey to regain the public’s trust, respect and admiration. But West has embraced the challenge to redeem himself, repair his image, help his team win a championship and continue to battle the effects of bi-polar disorder, all at the same time. Nobody said it would be easy, but West will go to war equipped with a more powerful weapon than the three he once carried with him on that motorcycle: a support group willing to stand by his side through difficult times.
“For [Doc Rivers] to say they want [me] back and Danny Ainge to say that, Wyc [Grousbeck] and the ownership and some of the players… that’s a high compliment man,” he told WEEI. “That’s something that you’re going to take to the grave with you. When you’re done playing you’ll tell your kids, ‘Doc Rivers wanted me to play for him. Maybe I’m not this quote-unquote bad guy after all.”
Not everyone receives a second chance after such a threatening sin, to absolve himself from a mess he never should have gotten himself into in the first place. Because of his strong relationship with the Celtics and, yes, his ability to play basketball at a world-class level, West has. He’s knee deep in his own pile of shit, but West is handling it the right way: by preparing to dig his way out.
A championship in his sights and redemption his ultimate goal, West must do everything right to earn public forgiveness. West, who Rivers has called as tough as any he’s coached, now stares at the steepest task of his career.
“It should be a lesson to a lot of younger players because that’s how it is,” West told ESPN Boston. “You’re judged by the decisions you make. It’s up to me to prove that maybe everything you read isn’t true. It’s a day-at-a-time process. That’s what it is.”
And so West has returned to doing the things he loves: playing basketball, competing and goofing around with his teammates. If he is to regain the public’s trust and rebuild his image, West is going to do it the same way he acquired love from Celtics nation in his first stint here: by being himself. If he’s a good person and a great guy, West says, it shouldn’t be that hard to rewrite his public impression.
Maybe West is right. But as he shoots jumpers each day after practice, all alone with no audience, he should remember one thing.
We’re all watching.