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Lakers’ Russell Westbrook sounds as vulnerable as you’ll ever hear him as he addresses ‘shaming’ of his name

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Russell Westbrook’s name has been dragged through the basketball mud this season. Yes, he’s been a lightning rod for criticism for much of his career, but it’s reached a high point since he came to the Los Angeles Lakers. For Westbrook, the slander has crossed so far over the line that he doesn’t even want his family attending games anymore. 

On Monday, Westbrook’s wife, Nina, posted a thread of tweets calling out the media for what she feels is the “pejorative” slandering of her husband’s name, a clear nod to the mocking “Westbrick” moniker that is trending as I type this and just about every night that the Lakers play. 

Nina went on to highlight the difference between criticism and childish name-calling, noting the “unwarranted hate and negativity” that her husband receives while revealing the obscenities and even death threats to which she, and others in her family, have been subjected.

After the Lakers’ loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Westbrook was asked about his wife’s comments from earlier in the day. His answer, which ran some four minutes long, was pretty heartbreaking, and it deserves to be heard and considered by everyone, especially the people, myself included, who do what I do for a living. This is as vulnerable and honest as you’ll ever hear Westbrook being with the media. 

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“For one, I one-hundred percent stand behind my wife and how she’s feeling because it’s not just about this year,” Westbrook said. “Right now, she’s reached a point and my family has reached a point to where it’s really weighing on them. And it’s very unfortunate just for me personally because this is just a game. This is not the end-all, be-all. When it comes to basketball I don’t mind the criticism of missing and making shots, but the moment it becomes where my name is getting shamed it becomes an issue. 

“I’ve kind of let it go in the past just because it never really bothered me, but it really kind of hit me the other day honestly,” Westbrook continued. “My wife and I were at a teacher-parent conference for my son, and the teacher told me: ‘Noah, he’s so proud of his last name. He writes it everywhere, he writes it on everything, he tells everybody, he walks around and says ‘I’m Westbrook,’ that’s his last name. And I kind of sat there in shock, and it kind of hit me, like damn. I can no longer allow people — for example, Westbrick, to me is now shaming, like it’s shaming my name, my legacy for my kids. It’s a name that means more not just to me, but to my wife, my mom, my dad. The ones that kind of paved the way for me. And that’s just one example. It kind of hit myself and my wife in a place where it’s not great, man. And I think a lot of times I let it slide, but it’s now time to put a stop to that and put it on notice. Like, there’s a difference [between criticism and name-shaming] , and we need to make sure that it’s understood. And every time I do hear it now I will make sure that I address it and make sure that I nip that in the bud.

“I’ve been blessed, and I’m super thankful for the ones around me and the ones that support me. But it’s really the shaming of my name, the shaming of my character, the shaming of who I am as a person, to me is not warranted. I haven’t done anything to anybody. I haven’t hurt anyone. I haven’t done anything but play basketball a way that people may not like. And this is just a game. This is not my entire life. I don’t like to harp on it, it’s kind of just in one ear out the other, but once it starts affecting my family, my wife, even today, my mom said something about it today. It affects them even going to games. I don’t even want to bring my kids to the game because I don’t want them to hear people calling their dad nicknames and other names for no reason, because he’s playing the game that he loves. It’s gotten so bad where my family doesn’t even want to go to home games, any game, because of the media across the globe using their platform to constantly shame, shame, shame me. It’s just super unfortunate. And it’s super upsetting to me. I’m at a point where I’m going to continue to address it. It’s just unfortunate.” 

To me, there’s a pretty clear line here and it’s pretty easy to tell when someone is crossing it. I’ve been as critical of Westbrook the basketball player as the next writer, and there’s no problem with that. He’s getting paid hundreds of millions of dollars to play great basketball and it’s the nature of the profession chose to be held accountable for falling short of that standard. 

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I would also add that Westbrook has never exactly been a gentleman with the media. He’s been outright rude and dismissive for much of his career, to be frank. Respect goes both ways. And people tend to treat you the way you treat them. 

That said, Westbrook is obviously right: When it starts affecting his family, it’s way over the line. Death threats? Obscenities being screamed at his wife? What is wrong with people? Westbrook has had altercations with fans on multiple occasions, and I’m all for fans being held accountable when they decide to play tough guy because they know Westbrook can’t do anything about it. These people would never say some of these things to Westbrook’s face if they knew they’d actually have to answer for them. Cowards. That’s all they are. 

But those idiots are the exceptions. Most people criticize Westbrook the same way they criticize other players who don’t live up to the obscene amount of money they make. It’s just the way it goes. 

As far as the “Westbrick” moniker that has caught on like wild fire, I’m kind of torn on that one. I can see where Westbrook is coming from. That’s his family name. A lot of people worked hard to put honor and respect on that name, and to Russ’ credit, he’s never done anything to sully that name. He’s been a world-class athlete and a family man committed to giving back to his communities and to the less fortunate all over the world. 

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But also, like, it’s just a silly play on words. Is it kind of childish? I guess. But it’s not a shot at the guy’s familial legacy. It’s a shot at one of the worst shooters in history who, for years, has continued to jack up bad shots. Personally, I don’t use the term. I find it kind of lazy, to be honest. A cliché at this point. I do think Westbrook is overreacting to that part of this, but hey, it’s his name. Not mine. I respect that. Like I said, I don’t think I’ve ever printed or even used that term, but if I have, I won’t anymore. 

To me, Westbrook’s reaction on Monday night wasn’t about any one thing. He used the “Westbrick” example, but the larger point is this guy has been taking a beating in the media for years now. He can say he never let it bother him, that it went in one ear and out the other, but his tone here suggested otherwise. He’s a human being. Too often that gets lost in all this. He has feeling and emotions and he’s entitled to all of them. 

Again, it’s not to say the criticism is unfair. I’ve dished out plenty of it myself. But you can understand how it would weigh on a man when people start going at his family. That’s where the line is. And if you’re one of the people who has crossed it, shame on you. 

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