Russell Westbrook may be the star player for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but his rise to fame didn't happen overnight. He talked about his rise in the NBA in a revealing interview.
In an interview conducted by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, the 26-year-old Westbrook opened up about his rise to fame as an NBA All-Star. Although he may be playing at the top his game now, it wasn't easy for his skills to get recognized when he first played basketball.
"I wasn't that good, but I played hard," Westbrook said.
Jenkins reported that when Westbrook was a junior at Leuzinger High in Lawndale, Calif., he wasn't able to dunk or shoot. However, he was also an honor-roll student who thought an academic scholarship was more attainable.
"I have one friend, and that's this ball," Westbrook said before playing on the basketball court.
According to Jenkins, the young Westbrook would train hard and strive for better things. The star athlete indicated that he pushed himself as a way to inspire his younger brother, Raynard.
"There are many times throughout a season that you may not feel like playing," Westbrook said. "You may not want to play on this night, or against this team. But I don't feel that way. This is one of the best jobs in the world, and you never know how long you'll be able to do it."
Westbrook added that he goes for it "every time," noting that although his methods looked "angry" at times, it was "the only way" he knew.
"That doesn't stop me," Westbrook said. "That makes me go after it even more. I want to mess up their game plan."
When it came to basketball, Westbrook indicated that he does not "fear anything or anybody on the court." As a man whose height is 6'3" and 200 pounds, Westbrook can contort his face in grimace as an expression of his emotions, according to Jenkins.
"I used to hold in my emotions and then I'd have one big outburst," Westbrook said. "Letting them go helps me move forward."
Jenkins reported that other NBA players have noticed how Westbrook's sense of play influenced the basketball game since he became part of the Thunder six years ago. Even Thunder small forward Kevin Durant, who is currently out for the rest of the season due to a sports injury, saw that spark within Westbrook.
"He plays with a rage that ignites this whole team, this whole arena," Durant said.
Westbrook even received the attention of NBA legend Oscar Robertson. The "Big O" first met Westbrook before the All-Star Game in Madison Square Garden.
"I told him he's a helluva player," Robertson said. "I've seen others with the same size and physicality, but they don't have this determination."
Even though Westbrook has suffered a few sports injuries himself, Jenkins reported that he continues to bring his best game on the basketball court. He even played despite breaking a bone in his right cheek back in February, donning a plastic mask that he constantly had to adjust.
"We're talking about a guy with the athleticism of LeBron [James] and the drive of Kobe [Bryant]," an opposing head coach said about Westbrook. "That's an intimidating enough combination, and then you put that mask on him, he's something out of a movie."
Even though he may have a feared reputation on the basketball court, Jenkins reported that the Thunder's organization loved him. In addition to giving the staff gifts, he would also be warm and funny to both the staffers and their children.
"He teaches himself guitar. He handles his own bills," Jenkins wrote. "He is never late. But he keeps most personal details concealed."
However, Westbrook told Jenkins that while he may be "Manic Russ" on the basketball court, he had a surprisingly likeable reputation in the outside world.
"People who don't know me probably think I'm mad all the time, and with the way I play, they have a point," Westbrook said. "But I'm not Angry Man off the court. I'm a laid-back chill guy."