Everyone loves Delonte West, says Doc Rivers, because he’s competitive and willing to sacrifice for his team. Everyone loves Delonte West, a true statement which speaks volumes about the way we choose our favorite players.
We love West, because he drives to the hoop with no hesitation even while nursing a broken wrist that still isn’t 100% (and still, according to Rivers, is at risk of further harm). We love West, because he’s the type of person who would fight Brock Lesnar if Rivers asked him to. We love West, because he runs an offense well. Because he can shoot, pass, defend, dribble, and rap about Kentucky Fried Chicken. Because he laughs and jokes and goofs around, but when he steps onto that court, he’s ready to play. Always.
We love West, despite knowing he once drove a three-wheeled motorcycle while carrying a fully-loaded Ruger .357 Magnum, a fully-loaded Beretta 9mm handgun, a Remington 870 shotgun, an 8.5-inch Bowie knife, and 112 shotgun shells.
I don’t mention the charges to rehash bad memories. From what we can tell, West is dealing with his mental illness appropriately and progressing well, and the weapons charges resulted from one mistake in a mostly well intentioned life. I don’t mention the charges to opine that we should never forgive West, either. From what we can tell, West deserves forgiveness. He made one mistake, and yes, it was grave, but nobody was truly harmed and West seems to be back on the right path. I mention the charges only to point out that we love West, despite his drive that night, despite knowing that we’ll never fully understand what he meant to do with all that ammunition, despite wondering whether his arrest actually saved him from a far more sinister outcome.
We can forgive violence, or at least the threat of violence, from our favorite teams’ players.
We can’t forgive erratic play, which is why I still haven’t (and probably never will) let Tony Allen back into my good graces. Watching Allen play was like watching a driver weave in an out of traffic, while driving the wrong way down a highway. Even when Allen didn’t cause an accident, the next one was never far behind.
We can’t forgive bad shot selection, which is why we were okay (fine, I was ecstatic) when Nate Robinson was traded away. Every time I saw Nate shoot one more pull-up three-pointer on a three-on-one fast break, I honestly felt like I could play a better point guard — and I’m an overweight, out-of-shape, slow, former Division-Three bench warmer with Ben Wallace’s handle.
We can’t forgive a lack of hustle, which is why we still occasionally use Patrick O’Bryant and Mark Blount as punching bags. To stand seven feet tall and rebound so poorly, one must try not to try. If that makes any sense at all. (Note: For whatever reason, Rasheed Wallace is still beloved by many Celtics fans, despite showing all the hustle of an oak tree during his Boston stay. I only mention Sheed because he’s the exception to the rule… and because more Celtics fans should realize how despicably poorly he played last season.)
We can’t forgive a lack of talent (sorry J.R. Giddens), a body that never cooperates (Jermaine O’Neal), a wasted draft pick (Michael Olowakandi, I’m staring right at you), a coach without a plan (Rick Pitino ring a bell?), or a GM who traded for Vin Baker (Chris Wallace, how did you ever get another job?).
Yet we do forgive Kevin Garnett when he punches an opponent in the balls or elbows someone in the face, Paul Pierce when he throws up gang signs or wraps his head in a fake bandage, and Rajon Rondo when he clothelines Brad Miller or sqaures off with Kirk Hinrich (actually, no need to forgive Rondo there — we loved him for that). We forgive the talented and the hard-working, and especially the talented hard workers.
I’m simplifying things, of course, but the moral of the story remains. We can forgive one mistake, or even a few mistakes — you know, as long as they don’t cost our team a game. We forgive our favorite players, and even grow to rationalize and love their flaws. We love that Garnett cusses every other word, because it shows how much he cares. We love that Perk never seemed to have fun and always started beef with his opponents, because basketball’s a war, goddamn it! We love that Pierce talks a whole lot of trash, because it reveals his competitive side. We love that Rondo’s arrogant and considers himself the world’s best, because don’t you want your point guard to have that type of confidence, too? When it comes to our favorite players, we can forgive and rationalize almost anything.
Just don’t let a ground ball roll between your legs, or miss four consecutive free throws in a game’s final minute. As Bill Buckner and Nick Anderson have learned, there are certain things fans will never just forgive and forget.