The basketball court was the place Delonte West escaped to when faced with ridicule from his peers growing up. In a huge feature on Slate, David Haglund writes:

As a kid, moving from school to school, he often found himself the target of playground taunting. “I was real funny-looking,” he says, with big ears, a mole on the back of his head that he had removed once he got to the NBA, and a birthmark below his lip that he’s also had partially removed. His light skin and red hair stuck out, too. “I was made fun of a lot growing up, but I just knew the basketball court was the place where you couldn’t make fun of me, you had to respect me.” He says he always had “more jokes for me than you had,” but that he internalized the cruel things kids said to him. Last year, West told an interviewer that he believed his real problem was not bipolar disorder, but “self-loathing.”

In recent years, West dealt with the accusatory laughter on the hardwood for the first time. Rumors, accusations, all his previously considered silliness was now read as insanity by the world at large:

He had, in other words, become a joke, and that joke had serious consequences. West, who turned 30 last July, has now been out of the NBA for two seasons. It’s fair to ask why someone with his abilities, a player who has spent the last year proving himself in the basketball hinterlands, finds himself on the outside looking in. West doesn’t know why he can’t get a job in the NBA. He just wants you to remember that when you’re chuckling about LeBron’s mom and a gun-laden motorcycle ride, you’re laughing at a human being—“a person who plays basketball,” not just a basketball player.

West took his talents to China after he was unable to land an NBA gig last year. He’s been successful in the CBA for sure, but he’s itching to play at the highest level once again. Two seasons absent from the League are two seasons too many for Delonte West.

I ask if basketball was still fun over there, and if it’s still fun in general. “Basketball’s always fun,” he says, “but I like to play at the highest level. And that’s why the NBA is where I belong.” 

Think a team would (or should) take a chance on West?