There’s an army ready. That’s how one person close to Delonte West put it Tuesday morning, after a viral video put a spotlight on West’s bipolar disorder, how the former St. Joseph’s Hawks star and 8-year NBA player has gotten help for his illness in the past, and he needs it again.
“My understanding is the NBA Players Association certainly has helped and they’re in the loop today,’’ former St. Joseph’s athletic director Don DiJulia said.
“The number of players that have reached out is unbelievable,’’ said another man close to West. “From high school to summer league to college all the way up to the NBA.”
The words Delonte West trending on Twitter on Monday night produced a wince. The reason was painful for so many to see. This funny man, this great basketball talent, at a low point, in handcuffs, almost incoherent, shirtless on a curb, asked about a fight. West on the ground being hit by another man on the street, also captured on video.
You see the video and maybe you hoped it wasn’t West, just some poor look-a-like. How fair even was the thought? A man sat in pain on a U.S. street. And confirmation came close to immediately. Those closest to West, no doubt, instantly knew it was him.
“My first reaction when I heard [Monday] night — one thing we can all do is start with prayer,’’ DiJulia said. “We’re all touched with pain and deeply saddened by this.”
Mental illness is not a foreign topic in the sports world, certainly not in the NBA. Starting this season, the league requires teams to have at least one full-time mental health professional. Last fall, the league hosted a mandatory health and wellness meeting for team executives. In 2018, the National Basketball Players Association announced its own mental health and wellness program. That same year, Philadelphia natives Marcus and Markieff Morris both detailed to ESPN how they were living with depression. Many others have come forward to tell of their struggles.
This video Monday hit across sports lines. Former Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant tweeted, “I see a lot dumb comments where folks making fun of Delonte west … this is not a joking matter … I’m going to figure out how I can help him … he need to be in rehab or something …”
West’s troubles with mental illness had been long established, even as he played out his NBA career, long after some St. Joe’s students used to dress up as the Wild, Wild West guys, honoring Delonte with their cowboy hats and a horse on a stick. He’d revealed in 2009 how he had struggled with bipolar disorder.
In 2009, West was arrested after officers pulled him over for speeding on a motorcycle while carrying two loaded handguns and a loaded shotgun in a guitar case, riding on the Capital Beltway when he cut off an officer, who pulled him over. He was suspended for 10 games after pleading guilty to gun charges.
At times, those closest to him had great phone calls with West, connected and coherent, as one friend said. I got one of those calls, deadline approaching in 2014. West, it turned out, really wanted to give his thoughts for a 10th-anniversary story of the Hawks’ 2004 NCAA Elite 8 team.
When that 2014 call finished, the opening of the story was scrapped. West had provided a new one, about the time he had walked into a shop in Jinjiang, China, where he briefly played professionally, "just a place to get a quick cup of noodles.” Inside, a Chinese man began flapping his arms. Like a Hawk. “I swear on my mother,’’ West said over the phone.
West remembered asking the guy, “What do you know about the Hawk?"
“I know. I know,” the man said.
On the phone that evening, West was funny and engaging.
West’s great St. Joe’s backcourt mate, Jameer Nelson, posted Monday on social media how he was sick to his stomach: "all we can do is pray for him and his family and hope that he seeks the proper help. Mental illness is something that a lot of people deal with and don’t even know it, until sometimes it’s too late.”
Nelson added that he didn’t know exactly “what is going on with Dwest but he knows I’m in his corner and will help him get through. Yes, I’ve spoken to him over the past several months, just trying to be his friend.”
Nelson went on to speak of the need to be treated professionally, and also asked people to be mindful about posting videos: “You may think you’re helping but you may be hurting them even more.”
Former St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli, now a University of Michigan assistant, also posted Monday night: “Over the past several hours I have talked with many who are willing to help. … This is so very painful.”
Both Nelson and Martelli declined to comment further.
That it was a former NBA player on that video was in some sense irrelevant. So many families in this country are familiar with the impact of mental illness. Except you see somebody play basketball, you gain some attachment.
Delonte West was always a memorable basketball player. Around here, maybe you think back to duels West had with Temple star David Hawkins, how their words after games made it clear they were teammates of a different sort, close friends as soon as the games ended.
“We love to compete,’’ Hawkins would say.
“Last year, I really got you at the Palestra," West would say.