The fierce competitor David West has accomplished something his friend and former teammate Chris Paul has not, despite years of Paul toil. David West is in the NBA Finals while Paul has yet to appear in a conference final. West and Paul were teammates in New Orleans, both drafted by the Hornets, West in 2003 and Paul in 2005. Both were All-Stars in New Orleans and both left the Big Easy for opportunities like West will have tonight, a chance at a ring, a parade, a celebration.
“He’s not in it for the spotlight, all he cares about is getting buckets.” (Chris Paul).
This, the 14th season of West in the NBA, same as LeBron James, may in fact be the career pinnacle for the power forward known for his toughness in the paint, leadership on and off the floor, strength at the rim and in the face of adversity, competitiveness and fearless psyche. West may finally get a championship ring at the behest of LeBron James, the player he just couldn’t beat when he was with Indiana. In a way, it is full circle for West, who played his fewest minutes this season, took his fewest amount of shots, had his lowest point per game total since he was a rookie in 2003-04. But his defensive rating was still David West normal, 100. He shot 53.6% and as the second oldest Warrior player (Matt Barnes is the oldest), he provided the young and gun 20-something talent crew resiliency and context. David West showed up during every phase of his career, particularly in the suffocating moments. He never cheated the game. He never quit.
In New Orleans as a 27 and 28 year old, playing for Byron Scott, West averaged 21 points a game and 8.7 rebounds. When he was 32 years old and in Indiana, he played 33 minutes and nearly made half the shots he took en route to 17 points and 8 rebounds and an Eastern Conference Finals matchup with LeBron James. These last two years with San Antonio and the Warriors, he reaffirmed the older player paradox of no longer being a starter but coming in to fill the gaps with his toughness, acumen and want-to even if he doesn’t have the legs he used to have and is a little bit slower at 36 years old.
Winning a title tonight, though euphoric, won’t legitimize the resume and career that has taken David West to New Orleans, Indiana, San Antonio and now Oakland. Nor will a title complete the man. David West the man, the athlete, the activist is already complete.
Socially conscious with a high intellect, extremely thoughtful about race, history, privilege and oppression, rarely is West overreactive regarding polarizing front page stories that last about five minutes in the national attention span but devastate marginalized communities just the same. West has never had a problem speaking truth to power, expressing himself with humility but trumpeting a just cause out of a sense of morality and duty. From the get-go it was clear he wasn’t the typical NBA player.
“People don’t expect athletes to have anything to offer other than being a source of entertainment. The mind is seen as 2nd or 3rd rate. So often the conversation starts and ends with sports. You find yourself boxed in. I have been labeled as stand-offish because when people engage me they just want to talk about basketball and that is not what I always want to talk about. ” [David West, New Black Man (In Exile)]
West’s non-basketball passion is African American History. A few years back he said, “I love to read; I want to be engaged with what is going on socially. I love music, the language that is inside the music, what guys are trying to say, especially with hip-hop. it doesn’t have to be the ‘conscious rap’. All rappers are conscious because they have the wherewithal and freedom to say something.”
The soulful and socio-political singer Nina Simone said, “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me. No fear.” No fear perfectly describes David West.
In October, during the buzz about Colin Kapernick, someone noticed West standing behind his teammates as they lined up for the national anthem and West clued everyone in. He has been doing it for years, not conforming, standing back as a political and humanistic gesture. West cannot accept that life goes on without a hitch when black communities are in crises. Before #staywoke was a hashtag, it was David West’s identity.
“What about education? What about infant mortality? How about we [African Americans] die younger and our babies die sooner? We die. We have the shortest life expectancy. There are so many issues… How can you talk about progress and how humans interrelate with one another when you don’t recognize our humanity?” In essence, don’t black lives matter?
No longer the age of innocence and awe, West has become, over time, very nuanced. At the intersection of West’s racial deconstruction and sociological reality is pragmatism. “I’ve gotten older and a little bit more mature in terms of my thinking.”
The irony of West and the Warriors is that Warriors owner Joe Lacob, in a spike the football moment, said the Warriors were light years ahead of every other NBA organization. The truth is David West is light years ahead of most NBA players.
His greatest statistical moment this season came in the spring in the comeback game against San Antonio when he scored 15 points, was a +23. In a two minute span in the 4th, he grabbed two rebounds- one offensive- he made a 19 foot jumper, another deep perimeter shot, a lay in, he missed an easy shot at the rim, and dished an assist for a Klay Thompson three. His five assists that night were second to Stephen Curry. He had more assists than rebounds.
David West’s presence on the Warriors, taking Marreese Speights roster spot, has been invaluable. He’s not going to drain threes. He eschews the spotlight or accolades for individualism. But he will be tough in the post. He will be a competitor, attacking the game with heart beating loudly, very old school. A human person who cares about other human persons, that is David West. That has been his career.
If everything works according to plan tonight at Oracle, David West the Xavier alum, the historian, thinker, power forward, activist, scholar, will finally be, after 14 modest and magnificent NBA seasons, David West the champion.
“My work speaks for itself. I’m a part of grassroots organizations. I’m about getting outside of this celebrity. Letting people get a real perspective.”
photo via llananba