Basketball is an escape for Delonte West. From the moment the ball is tipped, the worries of everyday life no longer matter for the next 48 minutes.
But there is plenty for West to think about once the buzzer sounds. These arent things he tries to run away from -- they are emotions he wants to address, ones that arent dealt with on the court.
So he picks up a pencil . . . and draws. As his feelings fill the page, the paper soaks up his emotions.
On the court has always been my escape from dealing with life and reality. I think I use basketball for that, he told CSNNE.com. Art, I use it as therapy for myself. Just dealing with being bipolar, my life, things like that just allow you to relax and just get away, let your mind just create. Ive had my own coping mechanisms my entire life dealing with that.
Just as West uses his creativity on the court to help the Boston Celtics, he uses art off the court to help himself.
Beth Dunbar handed an English assignment back with two grades on it. The first was for the classwork itself. The second, for the artwork which West had scrawled across the paper.
She gave me a D for the actual assignment, West recalled. Then she put an A next to one of my drawings and told me that she noticed my drawings were getting better and better.
West liked to doodle, as he put it, during class. As a student at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, he often let his mind wander and his thoughts take the form of art. Some drawings were random and others accompanied the assigned poem or story.
It was just natural, he said. Anything where I could show individuality and creativity, I was actually a natural with it. When it came to music, instruments, art, sports. I was able to play the piano a little bit by ear, play the congas. I did poetry slams, all bunch of stuff.
Dunbar, Wests sophomore year English teacher, took an interest in his drawings. She encouraged the student-athlete to continue developing his talent.
I like to see students express themselves the best they can and if it means in an unconventional way at times, then so be it, Dunbar said.
West began carrying a drawing pad with him to his other classes. I was told not to draw on my homework, he laughed. With each sketch, his pieces improved. He cites Dunbars interest in his artwork to have played a major role in his pursuit of his talent. The two still keep in touch 10 years later.
I can definitely say that I would consider Delonte a renaissance man in that he has talents in many different areas, such as the arts and sports, Dunbar said. He is one of the more unique students I have taught, that is for sure.
As West continued to hone his drawing skills in the classroom, he made perfecting his basketball skills top priority. After high school, he went on to play college ball at Saint Josephs University (where he majored in art) and was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 2004.
After seven years in the NBA, he still approaches the game with an artists mentality. To West, the basketball court is like a blank canvas. Being a versatile combo guard, there are several different pictures he can paint in on any given day.
Basketball and drawing are the same thing, he explained. Some days you can go out there with a plan. A guy like myself, being able to do more than one thing well, I can go out there and say, Okay, today Im just going to play defense, and be good at it. Or Ill say, Okay, today Im going to be a spot-up shooter.
And then theres games where you say, Im going to go out there and roll the basketball out there and let the creative juices flow and put a masterpiece together.
The Celtics' president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, always knew West had an interest in art. When West, who had been traded in 2007 as part of the Ray Allen deal, joined the team for a second time last summer, he was impressed by quality of his work.
Ainge notices Wests artistic traits on the court as well as he plays both point and shooting guard off the Celtics bench.
Hes very creative, Ainge said. Hes a terrific passer, he sees things happening. I think Delonte is a little bit of an artist. I would just like him to sometimes finish his art a little quicker (laughs). Sometimes Id like the brush to move a little faster. But hes a terrific artist. He has great vision on the court and I think he sees a lot of things that a lot of people dont see.
The irony of the player who sees so much on the court is that there is a side to him that many dont see. Underneath the exterior of a feisty guard cloaked in tattoos is an introspective artist who turns inward to cope with a series of obstacles he has faced.
Last July West pled guilty to weapons charges stemming from a September 2009 arrest. His sentence included home detention, probation, and community service. He also served a 10-game suspension at the start of this season.
A string of injuries, though, kept him off the court even longer. West appeared in just 24 regular season games for the Celtics. With time on his hands and lots on his mind, West dealt with his emotions artistically.
I havent really left the house in over two years besides to go to work, he said. Even now that Ive just recently gotten off house arrest, I still dont know what to do. Ive been in such a routine of staying in the house. I use art to pass the time by. You can only watch but so much TV.
West enjoys sculpting with clay -- One thing that really stood out to me was really being able to get hands on, he explained -- and prefers to draw in charcoal. He likes to sit in his backyard to capture the scenery on paper. Those are the happy pictures.
West says his emotions -- good and bad -- are depicted in his drawings, and there were plenty of those during the trying times.
My drawings change with my mood, but at the same time, its a good thing, he said. Youre able to draw what youre feeling. Sometimes some paintings come out dark, but sometimes thats what makes good art.
West plans to take his art a step further this summer with the help of mentor and former Celtic, Tommy Heinsohn. A noted artist himself, Heinsohn has inspired West to continue with his drawings.
Hes always staying on top of me, not letting talent go to waste, said West. Hes been motivational for me. When the season ends, hes supposed to take me down to a studio, show me his work, give me some pointers, so Im looking forward to that.
Heinsohn says West has expressed in interest in attending art school and believes his dedication will help him succeed.
He has a sincere interest, which is the real part that gets people going, Heinsohn said. When they really get interested, thats when they make something happen. Its more than just a potential hobby with him. I think its become serious and I think hes going to pursue it.
He added, If he pursues it like he developed as a basketball player, which requires the discipline to do that, hell do fine.
This past winter West designed a pair of holiday cards that were sent to Celtics ticket holders. On one of them, he sketched a Santa Claus carrying a bag of presents over his shoulder. Inside the sack was the number 18 and the NBA championship trophy.
As the Celtics battle in their pursuit for the title, West hopes to help paint the picture of victory.
Im an artist out here, he said, looking toward the court. I try to create. I think its just a creative gene thats somewhere in my blood.