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West Draws Line in the Sand for Pacers

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

October 1, 2013

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Back at Garner High School in North Carolina, David West quietly patrolled the hallways like a cop on the beat. If he saw a defenseless kid being picked on, he stepped in. Say, for example, a special needs student like his younger brother, Donald.

“If you messed around with kids that were slow or you picked on other people or bullied somebody, he would tell you to cut it out,” Garner's basketball coach Eddie Gray said. “If he ever caught you making fun of somebody's disabilities, he didn't like that.”

All these years later, as West enters his 11th NBA season, things haven't changed all that much. He's still there to defend those in need. Not that his Pacers teammates are getting picked on, but he'll defend a teammate needing support in a physical game, he'll defend his team's pride whenever challenged, and, above all else, he'll defend himself. It's no wonder, then, that he has played perhaps the biggest role in transforming the Pacers from Eastern Conference patsy to legitimate heavyweight title contender, and has done it with his personality as much as his performance.

West averaged 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Pacers last season. At age 33, he has enough left to have convinced team president Larry Bird to reward him with a three-year, $36 million contract that will likely take him to the end of his career. He's not likely to lead the Pacers in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots or assists this season. But his teammates will tell you that nobody is more important to their success.

For that, credit his boxer's mentality -- one leavened by perspective and intellect. West doesn't look for trouble, he tries to prevent it and defend those in it. He's never been involved in a fight in an NBA game, although he's been ejected for his share of hard fouls, and he did have a notable encounter with the mascot in Cleveland. The mascot, Moondog, engaged West in a playful sparring match before a game in April of 2012. West played along, landed a jab, and Moondog had to be briefly hosptalized with an eye injury. West apologized afterward.

West had a few legit scraps early in his high school career, in Teaneck, N.J., and in late-night confrontations at the military academy he attended after high school. The fact that he's clearly able and willing to fight, if necessary, factors into his success as an enforcer.

“The last thing any guy in the league wants to do is fight,” he said. “I just prepare to defend myself more than anything. When I got here, that was part of the mindset I thought was lacking: at all costs you defend yourself, you defend your teammate, you defend your pride. You go to whatever extent you have to go to defend yourself.

“That's probably the biggest lesson that I've learned throughout these years. You have to draw that proverbial line in the sand for yourself. Nobody else can draw it for you.”

If you've seen West play, it's not difficult to believe that his favorite off-season training activity is boxing. He started toward the end of June this year – later than usual because of the Pacers' playoff run – and went three days a week. His sessions included work with the heavy bag and the speed bag, and some sparring. The point is to improve conditioning and reflexes, as well as maintain toughness by taking some blows.

And he does take some blows. Willingly. West has no hidden desire to box professionally, because he has sparred often enough with pros to respect them and their profession.

“They hit hard,” he said.

One of the heavy hitters was Rashad Holloway, a onetime title contender who has sparred with the likes of champions as Shane Mosley and Manny Pacquiao. West stands 6-9, and weighs about 245 pounds. Holloway is a 6-foot welterweight, meaning he can't fight at more than 147 pounds. Let's just say that it didn't go any better for West in the ring than it would have gone for Holloway on a basketball court.

“I was under the impression that because I'm so much bigger I'd be able to handle some of that, but it doesn't quite work that way,” West said.

West is a traditionalist who prefers boxing over the modern alternative, mixed martial arts. He was a fan of Mike Tyson during Tyson's glory days, which coincided with West's boyhood, and counts George Foreman, Muhammad Ali, Oscar de la Hoya and Pacquiao among his favorites. Oh, and Floyd Mayweather, too – because of his ability to defend.

“The art of defense still wins,” West said.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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