The Tragic Downfall Of Ex-NBA Star Delonte West

He may have never played in an All-Star Game or suited up for the NBA Finals, but during his eight-year NBA career, Delonte West was a capable role player and a skilled defender who could also shoot from outside if asked to — not a true-blue "three-and-D" specialist, but a versatile combo guard nonetheless. For two-and-a-half seasons, he played alongside LeBron James, mostly starting at both guard positions for the Cleveland Cavaliers and regularly making the playoffs with his talented teammates. And if you look at his career numbers, he turned out pretty well for a late first-round draft pick — 9.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.1 steals per game for four NBA teams, according to Basketball-Reference.

That is, until you consider the off-court incidents he was involved in, and later on, what happened to him after his basketball-playing days were over. West is only 37 years old as of this writing, and while most players his age are long retired, he had a skill set that could have kept him on the court even in his mid-to-late 30s. These days, he is far better known as a classic example of a former NBA star who had fallen on hard times, but how did he get there in the first place? Let's take a look at the downfall of Delonte West, and the key events that preceded it.

West engaged in self-harm and did drugs as a teenager

Speaking to The Washington Post in 2015, Delonte West admitted to having a troubled childhood, one where he was bullied in grade school for being a red-haired, light-skinned African American. On a darker note, he told the publication's Rick Maese that when he was in the eighth grade, he temporarily stopped going to school and gravitated toward drugs after suffering a leg injury while playing basketball. 

West also said that he often had suicidal thoughts and spent time in children's hospitals, where he was confined with other young people who had tried harming themselves. He claimed that even little things such as not being able to buy the latest Air Jordans would send him into a funk. "I mean, I was basically crying for attention," West told Maese. "Maybe 17 or 18, you tell the story differently. 'Man, I tried to kill myself.' At 31, you say, 'What the hell was I doing?'"

Following a religious awakening of sorts at a children's hospital, West became a standout player at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, and later enrolled at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where he averaged 18.9 points and 4.7 assists as a junior. After leaving school early, he entered the 2004 NBA Draft, where he was picked 24th overall by the Boston Celtics.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

A bipolar diagnosis, sketchy rumors, and legal troubles

After three seasons with the Celtics and a half-season with the Seattle SuperSonics, Delonte West was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in February 2008 via a complicated three-team deal, per Basketball-Reference. The move gave West a chance to play for a rising franchise led by a young LeBron James, but the promising guard faced multiple personal issues that year, including a separation from his first wife and a bipolar disorder diagnosis. According to The Washington Post, West started taking medication, sought counseling, and took two weeks off from the Cavaliers in an effort to manage his condition.

Although West averaged a solid 11.7 points as the Cavaliers finished first in the Eastern Conference in the 2008-09 campaign, the former Saint Joseph's star's problems continued after the regular season. Not only did the Cavaliers get upset by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals; there were also widespread, yet unsubstantiated rumors that the Cavs lost because James was upset that West had an affair with the star forward's mother.

Sadly, it wasn't over for West during the 2009 offseason. He was arrested on September 17, 2009, after a Fort Washington, Maryland, police officer pulled him over for a traffic violation and found three loaded guns in his possession. West was sentenced to eight months of home detention, two months of probation, and 40 hours of community service after pleading guilty to only two of his eight speeding and weapons charges.

West's NBA career ended with a whimper

The last few years of Delonte West's NBA career saw him spend much of the money he made on the court. Per The Washington Post, he spent the 2011 lockout working at a furniture store in his hometown of Brandywine, Maryland, and frequently joked about his dwindling finances and other misfortunes on social media. After the lockout, he suited up for the Dallas Mavericks, but he was cut shortly before the start of the 2012-13 regular season following a pair of preseason incidents. He would never play in the NBA again.

According to West, he broke down after he was waived by the Mavericks, as he'd spend game days in his rented apartment, watching fans enter the American Airlines Arena and remaining in a catatonic state until they filed out of the building. "I couldn't move. I sulked. I cried every day, stopped eating," he admitted. "I felt I was so close. There was this perception of me because of one bad decision I made a few years back in Cleveland — I felt I was on the cusp of people letting it go."

West spent the next few years playing for multiple NBA D-League teams and doing a bit of globetrotting in the Chinese and Venezuelan leagues. At the time of The Washington Post's report, West was sidelined with a season-ending hand injury. However, he was described as a positive influence to the D-League Texas Legends' younger players, and as someone who was "no longer consumed by negative energy." Things seemed to be looking up for West — until reports surfaced regarding the now-former NBA star's apparent mental state.

West struggled with mental illness and drugs in recent years

Less than a year after the aforementioned Washington Post feature, West was spotted by a fan in Houston in February 2016, looking disheveled as he wandered barefoot outside a Jack in the Box. According to TMZ, the fan asked the ex-Cleveland Cavaliers star if he was Delonte West, to which he replied, "I used to be, but I'm not about that life anymore." Four months later, a photo of West supposedly panhandling on a Temple Hill, Maryland, street went viral, though he denied rumors that he was begging for money, telling Media Take Out (via the San Antonio Express-News) that he was "helping a homeless man" who was paralyzed from the neck down.

In January 2020, a video featuring West "rambling while in handcuffs" made the rounds on social media. This, according to ESPN, prompted his former Saint Joseph's teammate and fellow NBA alumnus Jameer Nelson to take to Twitter and ask people to pray for West and be aware that many people around the world deal with mental illness. In September, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reached out to West, picking him up at a Dallas gas station not long after he was spotted panhandling around the area, apparently homeless. He then offered to pay for his treatment at a drug rehabilitation facility.

Fortunately, it appears that West is now in a much better place mentally and physically, as it was reported in January 2021 that he had reconciled with his estranged mother and was working at the same rehab center where he received treatment months earlier.