Dallas Mavericks guard Delonte West is seated in front of his locker in full uniform, his jersey untucked, his size-13 feet bare. With infinite care and meticulous precision, he begins to wrap his left ankle with black medical tape, starting at the forefoot and working his way up. Finished, he lifts his right foot onto the edge of his chair and repeats the pregame ritual he's maintained for years.
"It's just like a warrior getting ready for battle," West said. "You take time to reflect on what you have to do that night for victory. It's like a Spartacus-type putting on your armor."
Since his return to action March 29 from a gruesome dislocated and fractured ring finger that required the insertion of stabilizing pins to properly heal, West has added to a routine most professional players relinquish to the head athletic trainer. West holds out his right hand, palm down, and begins the patient process of wrapping his still-swollen-stiff finger, looping the gauzy black material with his left hand around the ring and middle finger until they're flush, protected for battle.
In the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 15, West went for a steal. Reaching with his right hand, West's ring finger stabbed the basketball and snapped like a stick, bone barging through splintered skin, a sight so ghastly that on first glance teammate Vince Carter spun away and retracted his arms into his chest as if he had touched a hot stove.
West bent over, gripping the right hand as jagged lightning bolts surged through it, although he acted as though he was doing little more than catching his breath.
"The main thing I was thinking about was I'm not going to be able to put a full season together to show this team and show the city of Dallas that I'm committed and I want to be here," West said. "And with the way the bone was sticking out, I thought it might have been season-ending and I wasn't going to be able to show this team what I can do."
When the Mavs signed the 6-foot-3 guard for the league minimum Dec. 12, initially to back up Jason Kidd, they could be confident only in what they knew of the player: fierce competitor, intense defender, crafty mid-range shooter. As for the person, they could only go on what they were told: bipolar, intensely loyal to family, deeply caring, a convicted felon, a survivor.
The unknown part that West would arrive flat broke and sleep in the Mavs' locker room would be dumbfounding. His teammates would soon come to understand why it was not.
"He's a great person, a very caring person," Kidd said of West, who as a youngster on the playgrounds in Maryland and Washington, D.C., was called "Little Kidd" for his light skin and emulation of Kidd's game. "He's a competitor and he can play. He's a big part of our success here. Being around him this season has been great and I've learned a lot about him. He'll give you his last dollar if you need it."
His last dollar. Kidd had no idea how right he was.
For the rest of the story, click here.