“I used to be, but I’m not about that life anymore.”
This was the back and forth between a random NBA fan with a smart-phone and the 32-year-old former NBA player, who was seen walking into a Jack-in-the-Box wearing a hospital gown and no shoes, the skin hanging loosely on his emaciated face. West has long been public about living with bipolar disorder, yet in a 2012 interview with The Washington Post he said that he felt that he was misdiagnosed and that he was no longer taking medication. Now he is out on his own, and it does not look good.
This is a deeply distressing situation. It also raises the question about what responsibility the NBA has for the mental health of its current and recently retired players. Did Delonte West have access to psychiatric help as a player? And more importantly, was it made clear that any effort to receive mental-health assistance would not reflect negatively on his opportunities in the league?
This West sighting is just the latest instance of former players—think Lamar Odom, Gerald Green, Matt Barnes—who have exhibited behavior that was at best concerning and at worst life-threatening. If you want to throw Blake Griffin in for his beating of a team trainer who was supposed to be a friend, go right ahead. It raises questions about what kind of mental-health support truly exists in the medical world of an NBA team. One grimly recalls Milwaukee Bucks Center Larry Sanders leaving the league for his own psychological well-being and an owner saying to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, “I just gave him $30 million worth of mental health.”
The Delonte West story took my mind back to a letter sent to Adam Silver and the NBA executive offices last November by former player Royce White. The letter was private, but with Royce’s permission we are exclusively publishing it in its entirety below. No player has ever been more outspoken about the NBA’s absence of a competent mental-health program for players than 2012 first-round draft pick Royce White. His letter is an open plea for change as well as a damning indictment of his own experiences with the Houston Rockets. In one part White writes, “[I]n the absence of a clear mental health protocol or program, the risk for mismanagement is significantly increased. In Houston, that risk turned into result for me. There was very clear mismanagement during my time in Houston. From manipulation and interference with doctors to the lack of clear rules and interpretation of policy being used to instigate the conflict.”