The Los Angeles Clippers’ summer league squad has just beaten the Miami Heat’s summer iteration 91-85, in part because of Delonte West’s heady play. As West strolls off the floor, he’s besieged by well-wishers, players and former players alike. It’s unclear if West notices, but a young man in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey starts screaming, “LeBron James! LeBron James!” at West from seats overhanging the locker room tunnel. The heckler shouts downward at West, from directly above West’s head, as the 30-year-old point guard continues to the locker room, surrounded by friendly faces.
As LeBron is returning to his Ohio roots, his former Cleveland teammate is attempting to reboot his NBA career. West hasn’t played in the league since 2011-12, after a fraught divorce with the Mavericks. It appears he has a window of opportunity with the Clippers this summer. Doc Rivers says he’s considering West for a spot on his roster. It would be a resurrection of a career that has an almost haunted quality, given how associated West is with a time and place in LeBron’s saga that ended so abruptly. A combination of West’s personal struggles and misinformation about those struggles has fueled the sense that a promising career went irrevocably astray.
Life doesn’t seem so bleak when you talk to West, though. He’s engaging, hopeful, introspective and reflective. Now a father, his world has grown beyond the next game. It’s unclear if he will get to reprise his NBA role, but West appears to have gained an improved perspective regardless of whether that happens for him.
Is it hard to mesh your style of play in summer league, where everybody’s trying to show off?
Actually, it's not, because we don't have a consistent go-to guy, and therefore you have to use your team and your offense to create most of your offense. And collectively, we have to win games offensively and defensively. Somebody has to be from whatever position more of a creator, like a point forward or a point shooting guard. If my pass leads to a bucket, that's what all this is about.
I read the Slate article about all that you've been through. Would making the league again be an even bigger accomplishment than the first time you made it.
Yeah. Yeah. 'Cause, since, I mean, since I, I've pretty much taken care of my body over the years. I feel like I'm in the Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher boat, not as far as age just yet, but as far as can play eight more years. Those guys played 'til 38. I feel almost like a rookie again, and it feels great because you have a whole different perspective because my game done changed, introducing it all over again. It's fun for me. I'm more confident. So I'm just enjoying this, like I said. This time around will be better than last time around.
What kind of different perspective have you gained?
I'm putting pieces together off of my complete game. I've been successful in this league being able to be a piece on a puzzle. And now I'm coming back. I'm giving teams the whole puzzle, and therefore I think I'll be a real asset.
Do you think with what you've added that you're better than you were on those Cleveland teams?
Yeah, definitely. You know, I'm confident in my ability, growth. All those things off the court. I preach this to young guys all the time. That translates on the court. How good was Joe Schmo All-Star when he first came out of college or high school, and look how good he is eight to 10 years later. He's a phenom now, but look at him then. Pulling up 3-pointers, everything, so, that's that age range where you go from a phenom and a super talent to a super player, and super players win championships.
Does LeBron returning to Cleveland evoke any nostalgia for you?
You know, Cleveland is still home for me. Cleveland is one of those cities. It's blue-collar, it's been through so much, and I can relate to all that. Anytime I been anywhere in the world, I ain't been to too many places, tell 'em I go through Cleveland. Clevelanders, you know, they just good people, man. And they deserve some greatness. And LeBron knows that and he's doing the right thing. It's great, man. It's great.
Has being a father changed your perspective immensely?
Well, you just can't make the same silly decisions. Everybody gets frustrated when a call don't go your way or something and you want somebody to know you're mad. See that's my thing -- I always wore my emotions on my sleeve. You just want someone to know I'm upset. Injustice! Didn't y'all see that?! But, as you get older and wiser, you learn everybody gets technical fouls. Last season I played, I might have had two techs the whole season. For me, if those little things like that are causing teams' second-guessing, then out the window. And that comes with growth and maturity.
[A few players congratulate West on his game.] It seems like you get a lot of love here.
I'm a team player, man. I think when I've been out there, even in the past, I want to see a smile on my face. And that's how you should compete. If you look back at the days when gladiators were athletes. People would probably chop somebody up, and then after winning, they put their sword down and have a cocktail or something, you know? So as a point guard I compete and battle, but I want to show the teams that I can compete with a smile too if that's a problem.
In Dallas, what didn't exactly work out? Why wasn't the fit ideal?
It was ideal. Obviously it had nothing to do with the team. I kind of, in the summer, put all my eggs in one basket. In my own thinking, this next contract was going to be a step up for me. But that's my own thinking then. Like, that was probably going to be that situation, which the organization explained to me if certain pieces fell into place, like Dwight Howard, or this guy or that guy. So, it was almost a rebuilding, and they had a lot of young guys. And at 29, 30, I just wasn't receiving that well. I was looking for more stability.
You know, [Mark] Cuban used to talk to me all the time, talk to me all the time, even afterward. He would call me, "Whatcha got going on? You still working hard?" And that's what's up. He was a mentor to me for a while even after I left Dallas with the whole Twitter thing, finances and tax situation. He'd go, "I know you're in a tough financial spot, but you can't focus on the contract. You should focus on basketball. He told me once or twice. The third time he was like, "Look dude, this is the direction we're going to go." So I understood that.
It seemed like you were misunderstood, and it contributed to this stigma that wasn't exactly fair. What are your thoughts on that now?
Life is not fair, and I'm so thankful and blessed for these last two years of my life. That's for real. The hardest thing about being, is when you set yourself up. And then it hurts you more when you set yourself up, know what I mean? If that situation forced me to take control, to grow up, to fight through, not accepting being bipolar and fighting through it and talking to the right people and making sure I am understood and I'm not the only man in the world that has to do that. People in all walks of life have to go to work and prove themselves every day. It helped me grow as a person and a man, so I'm very grateful for that. And sometimes you gotta learn by bumping your head and going through it, and that's what I did.