Delonte West’s mental health issues have been well documented throughout his career. The combo guard from St. John’s dealt with major depression and a stress disorder during his time in the NBA. In an interview with the Northeast Ohio Media Group, Delonte revealed that he was dealing with major stress before the 2009-10 season because of a weapons charge:
“I was dealing with so much guilt,” West said. “I wasn’t processing things right. I was under the impression that I was going to do nine years minimum. Everything I’ve ever dreamed of, the sweat and tears of what I worked for would all be wiped away.”
In training camp, Delonte felt that he needed to step away from basketball for a few days to decompress for a bit. Before West could leave, LeBron James had a few words for his troubled teammate.
“He sat with me in the locker room for like an hour and was rapping it up with me by giving me words of encouragement,” West said. “Keep in mind, practice was still going on. He left practice and sat with me for a while, just keeping me company. He later walked me down the stairs and said, ‘D, I don’t know where you’re going or what you’re about to do, but I’ll be right here when you get back.’
“My spirits were so high at that point. I don’t know what would have happened had I left in the condition I was in prior. It’s a testament to the type of person he is.”
Delonte hit another rough patch during the season with the weapon charges still hanging over his head and his on-court performance stagnating. Before boarding a team flight, Delonte had close to a complete breakdown, and LeBron stepped in again to lend him a helping hand.
“The bus pulled up to escort us to the plane and I just broke down crying. I felt like my career was over. I was [expletive] up. I was concerned that my nieces and nephews wouldn’t look at me the same anymore. I let the team go ahead of me. I wasn’t getting on…”
“Man, LeBron and Randy just fellowshipped with me and then the next thing I knew, here comes [teammate] Lorenzen Wright before, rest in peace. He came out there and grabbed me, picked me up, bear hugging me. He hugged me for like five minutes. He literally had me up and they walked me up to the plane. Lorenzen read me Bible scriptures the whole plane ride. That team was a family and LeBron was a big reason why.”
A precautionary halo still surrounds mental health in the sports world. It’s a heavy burden that athletes often have to face on their own. In the wake of Larry Sanders’ retirement, mental health should be an issue pushed to the forefront of the league. It will take concerted efforts from both the league and individual teams to implement a smart, supportive infrastructure for players. However, the onus isn’t only on league executives. Players can make a huge difference in their teammates’ lives.
LeBron didn’t do anything extraordinary: he cared, he listened and it may have saved a person’s life. We could all probably find some time to listen when someone we know is going through a rough patch.