By Sam Brattain
The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
In middle school, David West was often teased for having large feet. Back then he was 5 feet 11 inches tall and wore the same shoe size he does now.
Now 6-foot-9, 240 pounds and a starting forward for the Indiana Pacers, West has filled into his size-17 shoe. And before hitting his growth spurt, he had to learn to love himself, he said.
“You know what? I love my feet,” West said to an audience of about 40 teenage boys at the Pendleton Juvenile Facility on Friday afternoon.
West, an eight-year NBA veteran and two-time all-star, told the boys to find something they like about themselves, even if it’s something small — or, in West’s case, big, like their feet.
“Chances are you are going to commit a crime against someone who looks and acts like you. It’s called self-hatred,” West said.
West said he could understand what they were going through. In 1994, 11 members of his family were incarcerated. Close friends he grew up with in Teaneck, N.J., have gone on to serve prison time, including a friend whom he identified using his inmate ID number, who is serving 45 years for murder.
The Pacers have been mediocre the past few years. They obtained West during the offseason as a free agent, and this year’s Pacers squad is the best since 2004. With a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers today, the team would clinch the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 playoff seed.
It would also secure home-court advantage for the Pacers for the first round, likely setting up a series against the Orlando Magic or Atlanta Hawks. West indicated he would prefer to play Orlando, who recently lost star center Dwight Howard to back surgery.
West cited a recent study which found the U.S. has a prison population of 2.3 million, the largest in the world.
“That’s 2.3 million people incarcerated that don’t have free will,” West said.
Being that America is a capitalist society, West said, there are just as many people who are benefiting from those incarcerations.
“One of the tenets of capitalism is that you capitalize on another man’s mistakes,” West said.
Former Pacer Darnell Hillman, who serves as the team’s director of camps, clinics and alumni relations, also spoke to the teens, emphasizing attitude.
“We all have an attitude. The question is: Is it good or bad?” Hillman said.
During his time in the military, Hillman didn’t like having people tell him what to do, and it would have been easy to develop a bad attitude, he said. Even though the teens are incarcerated, a positive attitude can help them take back power, because it shows they have control, he said.
He also told the kids to dream big and to dedicate themselves to achieving that dream.
“(West) is dedicated to his sport, I’m dedicated to this franchise, and I want one thing — for this franchise to win its first NBA championship,” Hillman said.
As a player, Hillman won two ABA championships with the Pacers. Since the NBA-ABA merger of 1976, the Pacers have reached the NBA finals just once, in 2000, when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We’ve been pretty close, but I haven’t quit, and I won’t let (the team) quit,” Hillman said.
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