“Racism is a malignant tumor that is the heart and beginning of a lot
of things so it’s hard to ignore it and hope it goes away.”
Standing tall at 6 ft, 9 inches, Indiana Pacers forward David West is no rookie to the game of life or basketball. He graduated college from Xavier University, where in 2003, he became the first Musketeer to win AP Player of the Year. An NBA player for the past 11 years, first playing for the New Orleans Hornets, 34-year-old West helped lead the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and continues to be a dominant player on and off the court.
The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper recently interviewed West after practice to gather his thoughts about mentoring and issues in the African-American community.
Indianapolis Recorder: You’ve been in the NBA for 11 years… was there ever a time you felt you didn’t fit in?
West: Part of my first few years was probably the hardest for me trying to get adjusted and figure out an identity for myself. I don’t think I’ve ever truly fit into the NBA because I’ve never wanted it to define me. I’ve tried not to be standoffish and isolate myself too much.
I just try to be me and sometimes being me, doesn’t fit the typical NBA deal that everyone is accustomed to. I really have been able to protect my name, the legacy of my family and what my family gave me and I’m uncompromising on that. I just try to live life. I know there are people who don’t like you in the walk of life, but I don’t care about the people who don’t like me. I’m not looking to make fans and I’ve never been that way. I just try to go out and do my job.
Being an African-American man, what do you think about the protests and killings in the Black community?
Foremost, in this instance, it is the violence we are encountering with the police but I think more than anything protests are a response to a deeper issue which is a system issue, one that’s widespread and not just in the police department. We’ve got a unique history in this country and we’re the only people that can say at every level of government, whether it be local, state or federal, they have conspired through law to our detriment as Black people in this country.
That is what makes it systemic as isolated incidents as people think they are. If you have that backdrop in understanding the history, that there were laws being written prior to the Constitution being put together that took away human liberties from African people in America, then you understand what all of this is. This isn’t new and it’s just more polarizing because of Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and the constant 24-hour news cycle. From my perspective, I’ve used the word “disheartening” before but I also almost have a thought process of “what do you expect?” We were so quick when President Obama was elected to go to this post-racial idea but immediately you know it’s a bunch of garbage if you have an understanding of what this system is.
I’m proud there are young people who are engaged and doing things that are proactive and ultimately walking toward knowledge. Walk toward information that is going to help build them internally and instill value in their lives as individuals. We have to constantly teach and preach to young people. We have to counter everything with “our lives are valuable.” Hopefully by having young people engaged, they will stay engaged and hopefully that is the positive that comes out of all of this but the entire climate is always here. It’s always been here and people just don’t want to talk about it. Racism is a malignant tumor that is the heart and beginning of a lot of things so it’s hard to ignore it and hope it goes away.
How important is mentoring to you? Is there anyone you’ve mentored over the years?
I have an AAU basketball program my brother and I run. That’s what I spend all of my time in the summer doing – working with young people. It’s using basketball as a vehicle to sort of bully my way into young people’s minds. They think it’s all about basketball but after a while we’ve got group texts going and constant communication. It’s a huge part of who I am to be available to young people. One of the things people get caught up in the NBA is they think we’re so distant.
I’ve got a bunch of young guys that can call me or text me any time and they don’t see me as an NBA player, they just see me as me. They have an understanding that I don’t have to act as if I’m better than them because all of our hearts do the same thing and they pump blood through our bodies. Based on just that, it’s my motivation for our young people. In order to change the direction of anything, we’ve got to address young people.