LAWNDALE, Calif. — “Go home,” Russell Westbrook shouted at a heckler sitting behind the players’ bench. “Go home,” he repeated.
The crowd at that late February blowout against the lowly New Orleans Pelicans had turned fast. The boos and jeers were so severe that Mr. Westbrook’s Los Angeles Lakers teammates seemed ready to face the fans in the front row. LeBron James got into a secondary debate with one gossip, while Trevor Ariza had to be physically restrained from confronting another.
“You’re not Kobe, you’re not Kobe,” one fan said, said Michael Morales, who filmed the on-court exchange at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
Drunk people screaming is normal. Athletes shouting back isn’t – especially among fans in seats that cost $3,500 per person.
“I’m a die-hard Laker fan,” said Mr. Morales, a 38-year-old postal worker who drives around town after every shift, coming to more games than Jack Nicholson and posting close-up clips that can make him earn thousands of dollars on Facebook Reels. But “right now,” he said, “it’s hard to watch.” Mr. Morales’ pain and extra income will soon end: Tuesday night, after a loss to Phoenix, the Lakers were knocked out of the playoffs.
Mr Westbrook joined the Lakers last July, after stints with the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards marred by injuries and a case of covidin a successful business which brought him to the team he grew up idolizing.
Although his performance this season has made him the target of angry fans, much of Mr Westbrook’s life off the pitch appears to be thriving. There is revealing news Movie showinga Historic Channel documentary, a recent art book, a clothing line with a new collection, and an educational foundation and community involvement that belies its temperamental image.
All of this should come as no surprise to many who have followed or been involved in his career. “He knows how to be a star,” said Simon Doonanwho spent three decades as creative director of Barneys New York.
Mr Doonan, now a judge on TV show ‘Making It’, calls out past collections with Mr. Westbrook where he “selected fabrics, worked on and approved designs” and shot videos whole, “the funniest that I had in my career.
But while Mr. Westbrook’s life off the court is filled with success, his basketball season has been so turbulent that his hometown faithful have turned against the Los Angeles native – so much so that his wife recently tweeted that the family had received “death wishes”. .” Former Lake Shaquille O’Neal advised to slow downand he was even benched and bought into trade talks.
Mr. Westbrook reacted to the boos and taunts of “Westbrick” with defiance; Speaking to a group of reporters after the loss to the Pelicans, he said: “I’ve got three beautiful kids at home, wife, I’m not bringing him home.”
But a few days later, in a post match interviewhe shifted, saying the taunts had gotten to him, hinting at bigger things than basketball, a revelation that was in the vein of the Showtime movie, “Passion Playin which he is introspective in a way that may still be rare among professional athletes. “The way I compete made me an easy target,” he says in the film, almost as if there were two Russells. “In the sports world, I’m the bad guy. People don’t really understand who I am. I’ll lie and say it didn’t affect me.
Born in Long Beach, Calif., Mr. Westbrook grew up in Hawthorne, near South Central Los Angeles, went to high school in Lawndale, then spent two years in Westwood at the University of California, Los Angeles. He entered the NBA in 2008 and immediately became known for his fiery game and fashion sense.
In the 1970s, the New York Knicks star Walt “Clyde” Frazier introduces player-approved sneakers, mink coats, Zorro hats and capes. Twenty years later, Dennis Rodman has raised the bar, once wear a wedding dress at a book signing. In the age of social media, Mr. Westbrook has transformed the arena tunnel into a pre-game walkway.
Being 6ft 3in means he can shop off the rack, but he rarely plays it safe, preferring bright patterns or, say, a white kilt at the Thom Browne Spring 2022 show – bold statements in the hyper-macho sports world.
He embraced his fashion star role with vigor, spending fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan with Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld, Raymond Pettibon and Tim Coppens.
“You wouldn’t want to get in his way on the pitch. In person, he’s totally different,” said Anthony Petrillose, associate editor of Rizzoli New York, who published “Russell Westbrook: Drivers of Style», with the cover of Mr. Pettibon. “The experience was, ‘I’m here to learn, I want the best book possible – how do we do that? “”
Honor the Gift, Mr. Westbrook’s fashion brand, has made pop up in Los Angeles and Paris and released a collection earlier this month called Concrete Jungle. The summer capsule collection was a tribute to exchange meetings; last fallit was a halcyon reimagining of the soul soundtrack to grow up in Hawthorne.
“Russell takes fashion just as seriously as he does as a playmaker,” said Ms Wintour, who last saw him in November at Madison Square Garden, where he “generously gifted me his sneakers after the game. They were a little too big for me, but luckily I was with my 6-4 nephew, who happily took them.
But the Lakers lost that night – and Mr. Westbrook looks unhappy with his job. As he worked with Nike’s Jordan brand on a complete foot system for his shoes, leaned on Honor the Gift designs, and carefully constructed his homecoming, basketball cut to Los Angeles has been bumpy.
In June of last year, Honor the Gift teamed up with Jordan and Mr. Westbrook’s Why not? Foundation, building a basketball court and sponsoring technology and design workshops at a Crenshaw District YMCA. (Jordan has been producing Westbrook’s signature shoe and Why Not? apparel since 2018.) The nonprofit foundation, named after a favorite saying, supports social initiatives and schools.
“Style is a weapon and it doesn’t stop at clothes,” said Sam Sohaili, who runs DMA United, a creative agency that has worked with Mr. Westbrook on branding deals. “Russell’s style is how he interacts with people.”
Such interactions support the two Russell theory: savoring the villain role, then playing the opposite. (Despite multiple attempts, Mr. Westbrook declined to comment for this article.)
And just when he seems like another celeb cashing in, he crosses over. During a grueling period of play in December, days after entering NBA safety protocols due to positive coronavirus tests in the team’s travel party, then testing negative for covidMr Westbrook donned a Santa hat and a grinchy tracksuit, posed for photos and gave each Why not? students new sneakers.
“Sometimes the priority isn’t what you get paid for,” noted the legendary Compton rapper DJ Quik just before the Lakers were crushed by the crosstown Clippers in March.
South of the Crypto.com Arena at Leuzinger High School in working-class Lawndale, one of the first things you see is a 50-foot mural of a booming you-know-who pasted over the cafeteria. Gloria Ramos. Across campus, in Thompson Gymnasium, a familiar name and jersey number hangs above the pitch where Mr Westbrook led the Olympians to a 25-4 record as a senior in 2006.
“It was inevitable that he would go to the NBA,” recalls Patrick Cleveland, a high school teammate who lived down the street from Mr. Westbrook and now coaches and works as a security guard here.
We spoke just as the trade deadline passed and the Lakers decided not to deal with Mr. Westbrook. In Lawndale, he is still a town prince who was tough, successful, and remained loyal.
To understand the two Russells is to understand a tragic what ifsaid Marlon Mendez, a coach at the time and now the school’s athletic director. What if Mr. Westbrook’s best friend, Khelcey Barrs, hadn’t collapsed after a series of pick-up games at Los Angeles Southwest College on May 11, 2004?
Khelcey was a 6-foot-6 sophomore headed for the NBA, until a heart condition ended it all at age 16. “We all had that chip on our shoulder, but Russell took it,” Mr. Cleveland said. “Everyone thinks he’s this guy full of energy. People don’t understand why he plays. We’ve all been injured but he’s the one who managed to keep this name alive. I’m grateful to Russell to have done it and to have carried this name with him.
After her death, Mr. Westbrook would cross the street and do Khelcey’s chores before class. Today he wears bracelets and shoes with the initials KB3The Leuzinger basketball is sponsored by Jordan and the former high school star remains a staple.
“I grew up around him,” said Amire Jones, a 16-year-old junior and guard from Compton. “At school, at games, at Jordan events. It’s crazy because an NBA player went to your school and he’s someone I can contact.
It is not uncommon for Mr Westbrook to show up, said Mr Jones, the son of Leuzinger coach Arturo Jones, one of many formative figures Mr Westbrook still relies on. “His legacy gives us opportunities. It is uplifting. Once I was training with him, missing shots, he took me aside. He said, ‘Trust, don’t stop. You miss 20, keep shooting.
What about Mr. Westbrook’s own confidence? The boos?
“There’s a lot of negativity around him for no reason,” Mr Jones said. “He’s going to keep shooting. He do not care. It’s Russ.