It will be easy for many to root against the Golden State Warriors as the 2017 NBA Finals start Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC). They added Kevin Durant to a team that was already the best in the NBA, and they have spent the past two years, since their 2015 championship, speaking with brash confidence.
But power forward David West deserves no scorn. In an NBA Finals where the loser is sure to face schadenfreude — LeBron James rarely escapes it — West would be a hard person to dislike. With all due respect to Channing Frye, Shaun Livingston and a few others (most of whom already have rings), West is the guy in this series who makes it easiest to root for him.
Here are eight reasons why:
1. He passed on more than $20 million for this chance.
While many decry that the Warriors could afford to add Durant on a $26.5 million contract this offseason, there should be no such acrimony about how they afforded West. For the second year in a row, rejecting offers that undoubtedly would have reached into eight figures per year, West opted to take a league minimum contract.
Last year, he did the same with the Spurs and played an only slightly larger role in their 67-victory season. These sacrifices are those of a now-14-year NBA veteran desperate for a ring and willing to give up a payday to get it. If we as a basketball world value championships above all else, what West has done should be considered exemplary.
2. He could afford to do that.
Don’t expect West to join the ranks of former NBA players forced to declare bankruptcy or show up to any event that will pay them. From a 2011 USA TODAY Sports profile:
A married father of two, West has always lived below his means. He says his home, three family vehicles and his mother’s home are paid off.
“I’ve never totally bought into the NBA lifestyle,” says West, who opted out of the final year of his deal that would have paid him $7.5 million when last season ended. “I’m by nature not a heavy spender. … I’m not a part of that bling-bling, stuntin’ culture. We don’t have any bills because I don’t believe in debt. We’ve always been like that.”
And in 2015, he told USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick, “My whole career, I’ve been very strategic about what I’ve done with my money and how we’ve invested.”
3. His charity work is unique, hands-on and meaningful.
West works with Habitat for Humanity, building houses with others rather than simply donating. He bought a basketball facility in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C., according to the 2011 USA TODAY Sports profile.
He was so moved by being in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina that he opted to sponsor families, independent of the NBA’s relief efforts, and stayed in touch with those families for years later, according to a 2014 Indianapolis Star profile:
“With all the money and the fame and the acclaim and the advancement that we claimed we made, we really (have) not made any big steps because Katrina was the biggest smack for me,” West said. “It just illustrated how dependent we are as people on other people. The majority of the people affected by Hurricane Katrina were African-American people, and with all the celebrity that we have, all the money that we have, all of this fame and fortune, we’re so disbanded that when our people are literally on TV in need of help, we got nothing to bring them.
“Katrina really altered how I was going to look at (and) how I was going to approach this NBA thing.”
4. He is a throwback on the court.
West is a 6-9 power forward with broad shoulders and large biceps. He looks like he should be banging in the post with Karl Malone and Charles Oakley, not chasing Kristaps Porzingis and Channing Frye around the 3-point line. That ability to play physical has been pivotal to West’s career, making him a grueling matchup while also allowing him to be an elite defender because of his strength.
West is a unique figure in the modern NBA in that he thrives off long 2-point jumpers, which he hits at a significantly more consistent rate than 3s. For his career, West shoots 47.5% on long 2s — considered between 16 feet and the 3-point line — compared to 26.1% on 3s.
5. He’s a talented musician.
From the Indy Star profile:
West, who played first-chair tuba in high school and drums in the church band, makes beats and once offered some to hip-hop star Lil Wayne.
“He’s a master drummer,” (Pacers coach Frank) Vogel said. “I look up one day after practice and he tore up the Area 55 drums to all of our shock and awe.”
Now he just needs to get a Soundcloud page.
6. He pushes for change.
We talk about silent protests, but West took his to another level. An amazing story at The Undefeated earlier this season chronicled West’s National Anthem protest, in which he stands two feet behind his teammates during the playing of the song. The most amazing thing: He’d been doing it for years, and no one was noticing.
West’s barely noticed protest was about much more than Colin Kaepernick’s cause of police brutality. From The Undefeated’s story:
“What about education? What about infant mortality? How about how we die younger and our babies die sooner?” power forward West told The Undefeated after the Warriors’ 97-93 preseason loss to the Toronto Raptors in Vancouver, British Columbia. “We die. [Black men] have the shortest life expectancy. C’mon, man. The health care system? There are so many [issues]. It’s like, whatever …
“I can’t start talking about civic issues. I can’t start talking about civility and being a citizen if m—–f—— don’t even think I’m a human being. How can you talk about progress and how humans interrelate with one another when you don’t even recognize our humanity? We got to somehow get that straight first so we’re on the same playing field. And that’s how I feel. There is just a lot of stuff, man.”
When Donald Trump was elected president, West also had a strong statement — one that may resonate with members of both parties:
“Just about every sort of political group you can name, folks agree with his positions. And you can’t deny that because folks voted for him. So I think … this whole fairy tale about a post-racial utopia that Obama supposedly created? It’s all … it’s all bull. That’s the bottom line when you look at what the results say from last night.”
7. He won’t be silenced on basketball, either.
The way the Pacers deconstructed a team that had reached consecutive Eastern Conference finals was bizarre and sudden, if necessary given the team’s age and lack of upside. West wasn’t having it, especially once he decided to leave.
So he called out the Pacers’ organization and Larry Bird in particular for their treatment of center Roy Hibbert, whom West felt they had thrown under the bus. Here’s his quote to WTHR Indianapolis:
“That’s one thing where I wish they would have handled better was the situation with Roy,” West said. “I’ll be honest with you, that bothered me a little bit, and I told Roy that. I’m the type of guy who feels like we’re all in this fight together and I’m not designed in that way to put it all on one guy. That did rub me the wrong way. That threw me off. I started reading some of that stuff, I started thinking, ‘Whoaa.’ I just didn’t feel good about that. I told Roy that it bothered me, that he’s still my teammate.”
8. He is an original.
On West’s shoulder, on each side of an Xavier X logo, West has the words “My Life” and “My Way” tattooed onto his left shoulder. He has the words “Live Free” tattooed on his wrist. If you haven’t figured out by now that this guy is a little different, that’s a good indication.
West’s independent thinking makes him a favorite in locker rooms. He’s often leading conversations while also keeping the team focused on the bigger picture. If the Warriors are going to win a second championship in three years, West is going to play a part — not only as a more switch-capable big man option than JaVale McGee off the bench, but also as a veteran leader.