Russell Westbrook’s difficult return home – The New York Times

Loundale, California – “Go home,” shouted Russell Westbrook at the hawker, who was sitting behind the bench. “Go home,” he repeated.

The crowd during this late February blast at the modest New Orleans Pelicans quickly turned around. The sounds and taunts were so bad that Mr. Westbrook’s teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers team looked ready to confront the fans in the front row. LeBron James entered into a side debate with one speaker, while Trevor Orissa had to physically refrain from colliding with another.

“You’re not Kobe, you’re not Kobe,” said fan Michael Morales, who filmed the exchange on the court at the Arena in Los Angeles.

Screaming drunk is normal. Athletes who shout back are not – especially fans in seats that cost $ 3,500 apiece.

“I’m an avid Laker fan,” said Mr. Morales, a 38-year-old postal worker who travels the city after each shift, comes to more games than Jack Nicholson, and publishes close-up clips that can earn him money. thousands of dollars on Facebook Reels. But “now,” he said, “it’s hard to watch.” Mr. Morales’ pain and extra income will soon be over: on Tuesday night, after losing to Phoenix, the Lakers dropped out of the postseason.

Mr. Westbrook joined the Lakers last July, after work at the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards, marred by injuries and the Kovid case, led 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 court seems to be flourishing. There are a showy new film Showtime, a History Channel documentary, a recent art book, a clothing line with a new collection, as well as an educational foundation and community involvement that contradict his temperamental image.

All of this should come as no surprise to many who have followed or participated in his career. “He knows how to be a star,” he said Simon Dunanwho spent three decades as creative director of Barneys New York.

Mr. Dunan, now a judge on the TV show Making It, calls past collections with Mr. Westbrook, where he “chose fabrics, worked on designs and approved them” and together shot a video, “the most interesting thing I’ve had in my career.”

But while Mr. Westbrook’s life off the court is filled with success, his basketball season has been so difficult that hometown believers have turned against the Los Angeles native – so much so that his wife recently tweeted that the family sent “wishes death. ” ». Former Laker Shaquille O’Neal advised to slow down and he was even on the bench in trade talks.

Mr. Westbrook responded defiantly to Westbrick’s whiskey and bullying; Speaking to reporters after the defeat of the Pelicans, he said: “I have three beautiful children at home, my wife, I will not take it home.”

But just days later, in an after-game interview, he shifted, saying the bullying got to him, alluding to more important things than basketball, a revelation that was similar to Showtime’s film “Passion Game,” in which it is introspective in a way that can still be unusual among professional athletes. “The way I compete has made me an easy target,” he says in the film, almost as if there are two Russells. “In the world of sports, I’m a bad guy. People don’t understand who I am. I will lie to say that I was not affected. “

Born in Long Beach, California, Mr. Westbrook grew up in Hawthorne, near downtown Los Angeles, attended high school in Londale, then spent two years at Westwood at the University of California, Los Angeles. He joined the NBA in 2008 and immediately became known for his passionate game and sense of fashion.

In the 1970s, New York Knicks star Walt “Clyde” Fraser introduced player-recommended sneakers, mink coats, hats and Zorro capes. Twenty years later, Dennis Rodman raised the bar by once wearing a wedding dress to subscribe to a book. In the age of social media, Mr. Westbrook turned the arena tunnel into a podium before the game.

Height 6 feet 3 means he can shop without any gear, but he rarely plays on the run, preferring bright patterns or, say, a white kilt at Tom Brown’s 2022 spring show – bold statements in the world of hyper-macho.

He vigorously embraced his role as a fashion star, spending fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan with people such as Anna Wintour, Karin Reutfeld, Raymond Pettibon and Tim Copense.

“You wouldn’t want to interfere with him on the court. Personally, it’s completely different, “said Anthony Petrilose, associate publisher of Rizzoli New York, who published” Russell Westbrook: Style Drivers “with a cover by Mr. Pattibon. “The experience was, ‘I’m here to study, I want the best book – how do we do that?’

Honor the Gift, Mr. Westbrook’s fashion brand, made pop-ups in Los Angeles and Paris and released a collection earlier this month called Concrete Jungle. The summer capsule collection was a tribute to the exchange meetings; last fall it was a quiet rethinking of the soul’s soundtrack to growing up in Hawthorne.

“Russell takes fashion as seriously as he does as a playmaker,” said Ms. Wintour, who last saw him in November at Madison Square Garden, where he generously gave me his sneakers after the game. They were a little too big for me, but luckily I was with my nephew 6-4 who happily took them. ”

But the Lakers lost that night – and Mr Westbrook looks unhappy at work. Although he worked with the Nike Jordan brand on a full-foot system for his shoes, reviewed the Honor the Gift design and carefully built his return home, the basketball in Los Angeles was bumpy.

Last June, Honor the Gift teamed up with Jordan and Mr. Westbrook’s “Why Not”? Foundation, construction of a basketball court and sponsorship of technology and design workshops at the YMCA in the urban area of ​​Crenshaw. (Jordan has been releasing Westbrook branded shoes and Why Not clothes since 2018.) The nonprofit foundation, named after a favorite saying, supports social initiatives and schools.

“Style is a weapon, and it doesn’t end with clothes,” said Sam Sohaili, who runs DMA United, a creative agency that works with Mr. Westbrook on brand deals. “Russell’s style is how he interacts with people.”

Such interactions support the theory of the two Russells: savor the role of the villain and then play the opposite. (Despite many attempts, Mr. Westbrook declined to comment on the article.)

Playing in Los Angeles also means Hollywood. Last May saw the premiere of “Tulsa Burning: The Race Massacre 1921,” which he is an executive producer on, and other projects are under development.

And just when he seems like another celebrity making money, he passes. During a grueling gameplay in December, days after the introduction of NBA security protocols due to positive coronavirus tests at the team’s traveling party and then a negative test for Covid, Mr. Westbrook put on Santa’s hat and ugly tracksuit, posed for photos and why not? student new sneakers.

“Sometimes the priority is not what you get paid for,” said legendary Compton rapper DJ Quik before the Clippers were defeated by the Lakers in March.

South of the Arena, at Leuzinger High School in working-class Londale, one of the first things you’ll see is a 50-foot fresco on which the Gloria Ramos coffee shop shows a self-know-who. Across the campus, at Thompson High School, a familiar name and number on a T-shirt hang over the court, where Mr. Westbrook led the Olympians to a 25-4 record as 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 trains and works here as a security officer.

We were talking just when the trade expired, and the Lakers decided not to talk to Mr. Westbrook. In Londale he was still the prince of the city, who had a hard time approaching, made good progress and remained faithful.

Understanding the two Russells means understanding the tragic what ifsaid Marlon Mendes, a coach since then and now the school’s athletic director. What if Mr. Westbrook’s best friend, Halsey Leopard, hadn’t gotten lost after a series of pickup games at Southwest College Los Angeles on May 11, 2004?

Halsey was a 6-foot-6 sophomore and headed to the NBA until his heart disease ended at 16. We all had this chip on our shoulders, but Russell took it upon himself, ”Mr Cleveland said. “Everyone thinks he’s this energetic guy. People don’t understand what he’s playing for. We all suffered, but he was the one who managed to keep that name. I’m grateful that Russell did it and carried that name with him. “

After his death, Mr. Westbrook walked across the street and performed Halsey’s duties before classes. Today, he wears bracelets and shoes with the initials KB3, basketball Leuzinger is sponsored by Jordan, and the former high school star remains unchanged.

“I grew up around him,” he said Amir Jones, A 16-year-old junior and security guard from Compton. “At school, games, Jordanian events. It’s crazy because an NBA player went to your school and I can contact him. ”

Mr Westbrook often visits, said Mr Jones, son of Leasinger coach Arthur Jones, one of the many figures Mr Westbrook still relies on. “His legacy gives us opportunities. It lifts the spirits. As soon as I engaged with him, skipping the throws, he pulled me aside. He said: “Confidence, don’t stop. You miss 20, keep shooting. ”

What about Mr. Westbrook’s confidence? Whistle?

“There’s a lot of negativity around him for no reason,” Mr. Jones said. “He will continue to shoot. He is don’t care. This is Russia. “

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