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Viral photo shows former NBA star Delonte West homeless on highway in Texas

West has struggled with bipolar disorder, substance abuse and homelessness for years

Timothy Bella
Tuesday 29 September 2020 17:57 BST
Photo went viral on Twitter with fans voicing their concern for former sporting hero
Photo went viral on Twitter with fans voicing their concern for former sporting hero (Twitter)

Standing on the side of a road near a Dallas highway, Delonte West was asking for help.

Wearing a white sweater, baggy grey sweatpants and slip-on loafers covered in dirt, the former NBA point guard was more than a dozen years removed from LeBron James finding him for a game-winning three-pointer in a playoff game against Washington, the biggest bucket of his basketball life.

Mr West, who has struggled for years with bipolar disorder, substance abuse and homelessness, was photographed last week holding a small cardboard sign on a rainy north Texas day.

That photo set off a new round of concern from a basketball community hoping again to help the 37-year-old. Among those was Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was filmed on Monday picking up Mr West at a gas station in a viral video first reported on by TMZ Sports.

“I can just confirm that I found him and helped him,” Mr Cuban told the Post in an email late on Monday. “The rest is up to Delonte and his family to tell.”

TMZ reported that Mr Cuban spent days trying to get in touch with Mr West before contacting him and getting him to agree to meet at a gas station in north Dallas. In a Snapchat video posted with the TMZ report, Mr West could be seen waiting inside the gas station's convenience store. A second video captured Mr Cuban, who was wearing a mask, picking up Mr West in his blue Tesla Model S.

“Good job, man,” the man recording the Snapchat video said to Mr Cuban.

Mr Cuban took Mr West to a hotel and has offered to pay for his treatment at a drug rehabilitation facility, TMZ reported.

Born in July 1983 in the District, Mr West burst onto the local basketball scene at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he was named as the Post's Boys Player of the Year as a senior.

At Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia, Mr West helped lead a team that finished the regular season a perfect 27-0 before losing in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics in 2004, Mr West went on to play eight seasons in the NBA.

But Mr West always struggled with mental illness. In 2015, he told the Post's Rick Maese that he had regularly attempted to kill himself as a teenager. Mr West publicly disclosed his bipolar disorder diagnosis in 2008, when he was still playing in Cleveland. Mr West pleaded guilty to weapons charges in 2009 after police found three loaded guns in his motorcycle during a traffic stop. He avoided jail time, but was sentenced to eight months home detention.

After his NBA career ended, Mr West's life quickly spiralled out of control. By 2016, Mr West was photographed walking around Houston without any shoes, prompting the first public fears that he was homeless.

Monday's meeting with Mr Cuban wasn't the first time the owner has tried to help Mr West, who played his final NBA season for the Mavericks in 2012. As Mr Maese reported, Mr Cuban helped connect Mr West with a financial adviser around 2014. But his efforts to keep him off the street were unsuccessful.

In January, Mr West was shown in a video posted to social media of him getting beat up on a highway in Oxon Hill. Another video from the incident showed a shirtless Mr West, badly bruised from the altercation, sounding disoriented while handcuffed on the curb. Both Mr West and the man, who had gotten into an argument earlier in the day, declined to press charges and were released in less than an hour.

Once footage of Mr West handcuffed leaked online, Prince George's County police announced that one of their own officers had been suspended for recording the video, reported the Post's Matt Bonesteel and Jacob Bogage.

The January video sparked another outcry from former coaches and players who vowed to support him. Phil Martelli, Mr West's college coach at Saint Joseph's, described the incident as “so very painful”.

“All we can do is pray for him and his family and hope that he seeks the proper help,” Jameer Nelson, his teammate at Saint Joseph's, tweeted in January. “Mental illness is something a lot of people deal with and don't even know it, until sometimes it's too late.”

In a league that has stressed the importance of mental health, Mr West's story has been held up as a cautionary tale. Stars like Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan and Paul George have spoken out in recent years about their own struggles with the everyday pressures of the NBA. Before the start of this season, the league adopted new rules requiring every team to have at least one mental health professional on staff, CNBC reported.

Mr West in 2015 described his battle with bipolar disorder to the Post.

“I am bipolar - just like the rest of us in the world,” he said. “So bipolar is defined as something sad happens, you're sad. Something happy happens, you're happy. I think pretty much everyone in the world is like that. Now there's different levels. How long do you stay sad? How does it affect your behaviour? How do you handle these emotions?”

The Washington Post

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