More Than Basketball: David West

March 15, 2007

Through March 15, the Hornets were 17-17 with David West in the lineup, but went just 11-19 during the 30-game stretch when West was sidelined with an elbow injury.

When you think of Hornets power forward David West, a few things may come to mind: Clutch shooting. Agile post moves. The ever-present scowl West displays whenever hes upset during a game.

How much does the average Hornets fan really know about West, though? Even after a breakout 2005-06 season in which he finished as a runner-up in the NBAs Most Improved Player voting and emerged as one of the leagues up-and-coming players, very little has been written about Wests personality. sat down with the Hornets starter recently to discuss his status in the NBA, as well as several unique topics that have nothing to do with basketball. Last season, Chris Paul described the 6-foot-9 West as the smartest Hornets player, saying that West always has a book in his hands. West is deeply interested in topics including black history, philosophy and various societal issues.

On the court, Wests four-year pro career has included more than its share of ups and downs. After being chosen as the National Player of the Year in 2002-03 as a senior at Xavier (Ohio) University, West was the No. 18 overall pick by the Hornets. As a rookie, he provided a nice contribution for the Hornets most recent playoff team, a veteran squad that won 41 games before falling in six games to Philadelphia in the postseasons first round.

From an individual and team standpoint, Wests sophomore NBA campaign was a forgettable one. After the Hornets started 1-19, the team traded several of its veterans, paving the way for West and several of his youthful teammates to take on major roles. Unfortunately for West, he was unable to take full advantage of the opportunity, due to a severe knee bruise that caused him to miss 52 games. West averaged 6.2 points and 4.3 rebounds that season. The Hornets finished 18-64, the worst record in franchise history.

Last season, West stunned observers throughout the NBA by averaging 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. Paired with rookie sensation Paul, West helped make New Orleans/Oklahoma City the most improved team in the league, upping its victory total by 20 games with a 38-44 mark.

Looking to build upon his breakthrough campaign, the 26-year-old suffered a second career setback to injury this season, when an elbow injury forced him to miss 30 consecutive games. When West has played, however, hes put up very similar numbers to his eye-opening 2005-06, producing per-game averages of 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds. You made major strides last season in terms of your career, given how well you played and by finishing second in the Most Improved Player voting. After so much progress in 2005-06, how frustrating was it for you to miss such a large portion of this season to injury?
West: It was alright. The biggest thing was to put everything in perspective. Dealing with the injury was tough, but you have to make the best of it. It felt like I was able to capitalize on the time I was out and I came back even stronger. I came out with a better sense of urgency and realized how important the games I got a chance to play in were. As a second-year NBA player in 2004-05, you missed 52 games due to injury. How much did that experience help deal with being injured this time, either mentally or emotionally?
West: Well, they were two totally different situations. Two years ago, it was something where with the way the team was going, we were losing all those games. I dont want to say the season was lost, but it wasnt a situation where I could get back and help the team (improve significantly).
This season, I knew I had to get back in the flow, because I knew I was a big part of what we were trying to accomplish here. Being able to get back healthy and into the lineup was more important than anything. The average fan doesnt know a lot about you off the court. Some of your teammates describe you as a pretty quiet guy who is often seen reading on the team plane or the bus and is knowledgeable about social and political issues. How would you describe yourself away from basketball?
West: I just like to be knowledgeable about a lot of things that I learned in military school. I attended a military school for a year in Virginia, and I learned that its better to be in the know. They say ignorance is bliss, but thats a double-edged sword. When you have knowledge, youre able to be comfortable in different arenas and places.
You cant be packaged into a box when youre knowledgeable about various subjects. I take pride in that, because I understand that there is life outside of basketball. I realize that there are people in this world who dont know anything about basketball. There are people who dont know anything about sports in general. There is a whole world of information out there. Do you ever think about the stereotype that a lot of people have about athletes, that they dont know about anything EXCEPT sports?
West: Exactly. Thats a shame. I think especially for guys who go to college, they should make it even more of an emphasis to themselves to become educated so that they wont be put in that box.
Everybodys different, but there is life outside of sports and outside of basketball. If you think about it, what is the average career in basketball? Maybe four or five years? Even guys who play in the league for more than 10 years, when they get out, they still might be only 34 or 35 years old. You still have a whole other lifetime to live (after basketball). I just try to make sure that I am well-rounded. Thats something that I credit to my Dad he told me to not be pigeon-holed. What are some of the areas outside of basketball you are interested in, or issues that you may become more heavily involved with after you retire from the NBA?
West: I am a big black history buff. I am very interested in black culture and am kind of a connoisseur of it. Im interested in philosophy, some psychology, everything. I look at it like the more information I can get, the better. I dont limit myself. I read everything.
Ive read (philosophers) Plato, Nitschke anyone that had something unique to say. I like to read what people term intellectuals and people in our lifetime who the general population goes to for information. There is something about that that interests me. I can appreciate that. Im reading a book right now about a kid who graduated from Harvard at age 16 or 17. You wonder, How does someone do that?
I know that I am not going to be in a locker room my whole life. When I leave basketball, if I am a different situation and place, I want to be able to hold a conversation on something totally outside the realm of sports. How much has the attention you receive from fans changed since the beginning of your career? You are one of the most popular players on the team with fans and probably get recognized much more than you did early in your career.
West: Its good to see what has happened, but I am not someone who really yearns for the spotlight. Im not a guy who wants to jump in front of the camera at every opportunity. I know that its something that comes with the territory, that if you play well, people are going to give you more recognition.
The one thing that really has surprised me is how many people outside of New Orleans and Oklahoma City recognize me now. Certain places we go, (fans) are like, Dave, I know about you That really surprises me, when people call out my name in other cities. Thats really cool. [smiles] But to tell you the truth, I think my wife gets a bigger kick out of it than I do! What about dealing with the media? You always have a significant group of reporters talking to you after games now, which was not the case early in your career.
West: It just comes with being in the league longer. Youre going to get more attention. I do feel a lot more comfortable, because at some point I realized that (the media) are not necessarily the enemy. A lot of times, especially when you come into the league as a rookie, you hear about bad things being written about your teammates or other players around the league, and you start to think that every reporter asking you questions is (negative), or trying to get information on the bad (aspects of a player).
But you cant do that. Everyone has their angle and every (reporter) is different. You cant go into it thinking that everyone (has harmful intentions). In terms of the future, how much do you think about your place among the games premier power forwards? Do you picture Chris Paul and yourself becoming one of the NBAs best duos?
West: Every night, especially in the West, youve got someone to deal with at my position. But I dont worry about it too much. I just have to continue to bide my time. As long as I continue to produce, I will be satisfied. Now that were in the position of trying to make a run at the postseason, that is more important to me (than individual accolades).

As far as playing with Chris, hes so unselfish, is always looking for you and that makes the game easy for you. Youve got to love a guy like that. Obviously the more talent you have around you, the better everyone is going to play. This is only our second year together. I feel like as long as we continue to get better and grow, and learn each other, that is only going to make the team better.
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