The Celtics need Delonte West. He’s a pivotal piece to their championship puzzle, a guard who provides a little bit of everything. Without him, the C’s might still have a shot at winning a title. With him, they’re that much better.
The relationship is mutual. West needs the Celtics too.
Nowhere else in the NBA could West be showered with the type of reception he received last night. Not everybody in the TD Garden offered West a standing ovation, some people stayed seated. But standing or seated, the Boston fans together roared their approval at adding their long-lost favorite. Yes, Delonte West is still a fan favorite.
He’s been through a lot since he last played in Boston, there’s no doubt of that, but here in Boston we like to remember West as one of the few rays of hope on one of the worst Celtics teams in history. A few members of the team gave up that season. Some say they were tanking for Greg Oden (so sad). But West brought his hard hat to work every night, competed every single game, and we remember that.
Do the Boston fans still love him? Their reception was enough to bring a tear to West’s eye. Maybe more impressively, last night’s game was Comcast’s most-watched regular season Celtics broadcast. Ever. I promise, people weren’t tuning in to watch Andray Blatche or JaVale McGee. They wanted to see Delonte West.
In any other NBA arena, West would be considered some sort of monster. Just another NBA player who has issues, just another gun-toting celebrity with sinister intentions who couldn’t handle being a role model. But in Boston, West was welcomed with nothing but love.
Did any other NBA team want West? Not exactly. The Cleveland Cavaliers traded him away. The Minnesota Timberwolves released him to save $4.1 million. Meanwhile, the Wolves spent $4 million per year on Luke Ridnour and $5 million per year on Darko Millicic. At one point, West thought his NBA career might be finished. “For a minute there in the summertime,” he told the Boston Herald, ”I thought I wasn’t going to see an NBA court again.”
But where other NBA franchises saw a problem child, the Celtics saw a great teammate and fierce competitor. Danny Ainge openly stated how West was one of his favorite players. Doc Rivers called West a joy to coach. And West’s old teammates, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Shaquille O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins? They wanted him back too. They remembered what he could bring to a team. More importantly, they knew who he was. That gun incident, as evil as it seemed, wasn’t the West they knew.
Said West, “I just thank the Lord that the ownership here and the coaching staff and Danny Ainge, you know, they know what I’m about. They knew the difference between a bad decision and a bad person, and I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to do what I love to do.”
He’s blessed to have the Boston Celtics, a team that not only wants West but needs him. A team that respects West as an individual, both on and off the court. When West signed with Boston this summer, he told Gary Washburn, five of his veteran teammates pulled him aside for a bit of an intervention. West’s teammates told him they didn’t want any distractions, but perhaps more importantly conveyed faith and trust in West.
Faith and trust could also describe how the Celtics fanbase has received West. We still worry about West, at least a little. We still wonder whether he can stay away from trouble all season long. But the resounding applause last night wasn’t just a welcome home committee being kind — it was a show of faith, of trust, of solidarity. In other NBA markets, West would have been received with tepidation at best, or fear and disdain at worst. In Boston, fans are willing to stand behind West, to support him, to give him a second chance.
Why? Maybe because we need him to help win a championship. Maybe because our long-standing relationship with him allowed us to give him some slack for his mistakes. Maybe because he’s gritty, and can shoot, and plays defense like a pitbull. But maybe, just maybe, we’re willing to accept West because we always suspected he was a good person, even after the scary gun incident. Because we always suspected his mistake was an aberration and not truly indicative of his character.
Perhaps we shouldn’t even care why we have accepted West with open arms. He’s in Boston and, for now at least, the relationship is mutually beneficial. The Celtics need Delonte West and Delonte West needs the Celtics.