The Whiteboard: Your ultimate Russell Westbrook reading list

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For 13 seasons, Russell Westbrook has been an object of endless fascination for NBA fans — his personality, his fire, his athleticism, his style of play, his stats, his relationships with teammates and opponents. And as he heads into year 14, with LeBron and the Lakers, the spotlight isn’t going anywhere.

Over the past decade and a half, the primary mode for fans to understand Westbrook as a person and as a player has been the endless media coverage of him. But not all of that coverage has been of equal quality and the messages, themes and approaches have changed over the years. For that reason, I tried something new here — gathering 20 of the best pieces ever written about Westbrook, stretching from his final season at UCLA in 2008, all the way through last spring with the Wizards. Together, I think they represent a fascinating picture of how Westbrook, and our perception of him, have evolved over time.

Here is your ultimate Russell Westbrook Reading List:

Story: NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/4/08 — Part One
Publication: DraftExpress
Date: March 4, 2008
Author: Jonathan Givony

Context: Any tracing of Russell Westbrook’s career arc has to start with how he was viewed as a college prospect. His talent was evident and he played a significant role for a UCLA team that lost in the Championship game. But he was the third-leading scorer and didn’t even play point guard primarily on that team, which also featured future NBA players Kevin Love, Darren Collison and Luc Mbah A Moute. This piece was written just before the tournament started and expressed doubts that Westbrook would be a lottery pick, a full-time point guard at the next level or even a regular starter.

Money Quote: 

“It’s still not quite clear what position Westbrook will play in the NBA, even if it could probably be said that his upside is so high that he can just figure that out down the road. He lacks significant experience at the point guard position, and probably isn’t a good enough shooter/ball-handler/shot-creator to be considered a starting caliber shooting guard, particularly since he lacks size for the position at 6-3. Considering his physical tools, intangibles and how much he’s improved over the past two years, though, a lot of teams would probably have a hard time passing him up in the 10-20 range, since he truly has home run potential if he can improve on his weaknesses in time. He might ideally be suited coming off the bench playing a Leandro Barbosa type role, which would still be worthy of a very high pick.”


Story: No Such Thing As a Bad Look
Publication: ESPN The Magazine
Date: April 5, 2013
Author: Sam Alipour

Context: As the league has gotten progressively more hip and fashion-forward, Westbrook has been a bit overshadowed but it’s worth remembering what a trend-setter he was. His lense-less glasses, tiny backpacks and patterned shirts in postgame pressers often drew as much attention as his in-game highlights. This Q&A, which ran near the end of his fifth season, shows Westbrook remarkably open and unguarded, talking about his upbringing, his family, his approach on the court and his approach to fashion.

Money Quote: 

“What was your dress like in high school?
Baggy clothes, sweats, stuff like that. Didn’t dress up much, except for prom. I won Best Dressed with a white tux, long jacket and custom turquoise shoes — that was my color, same color as my shirt and tie. My date had on turquoise and white. We were a good match.

That was the first time you flexed your sartorial muscles?
No, wait — what dance was that? Oh, winter formal, halfway through my senior year. I wore pinstripes, brown, with brown shoes and shirt. I didn’t have a date to that one — that’s how clean I thought I was. [Laughs.] I didn’t want a girl to mess me up. Those were the only two times I went to dances.”


Story: Thunder Struck: Russell Westbrook’s Injury and What It Means for Oklahoma City
Publication: Grantland
Date: April 26, 2013
Author: Zach Lowe

Summary: Coming off a disappointing loss to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Thunder seemed determined not to miss again. The roster had been shaken up by the James Harden trade but they went 60-22 during the 2012-13 regular season, finishing with the best record in the West and inside the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But the route to a Finals rematch took a detour in the second round of the playoffs when Patrick Beverley took an aggressive dive at the ball, colliding with Westbrook who ended up with a meniscus tear. This piece by Lowe covers just what Westbrook meant to this peak version of the Thunder and how his chaotic style of play was something that simply couldn’t be replaced.

Money Quote: 

“A healthy Thunder team represented the best chance at a competitive series against a fully healthy Heat team, or a Heat team as close to fully healthy as a team can be after playing 82 games and the playoffs. The Thunder aren’t as refined as Miami, or as refined as the NBA punditry might like them to be, and Westbrook more than anyone else represents that lack of refinement. He takes three or four bad shots in each game — midrange jumpers off the dribble, or crazy flying layups taken at full running speed in crowded spaces. The jumpers usually come with 15 seconds left on the shot clock, plenty of time to work for something better. The layups come after Westbrook has accelerated off the dribble, looking as if he is going downhill (especially when he goes left and lowers his lead shoulder), with available passing lanes an overexcited Westbrook ignores.”


Story: Career Arc: Russell Westbrook
Publication: Grantland
Date: May 21, 2014
Author: Bryan Phillips

Summary: Leading into the 2014 NBA Playoffs, this piece is a look at the arc of Westbrook’s career up to that point and, as such, is a good summary of how the perception of him as a player evolved from his college years up to the dawning of his NBA prime. It’s also as good a summation as I’ve seen of why so many people loved watching Westbrook in this era, even if there was a legitimate argument that he was lowering the ceiling of the Thunder.

Money Quote: 

“The version of the Russ Paradox that you’ll run into now, if you listen to Charles Barkley or hang out on basketball Twitter, is basically that Westbrook is so talented that his talent hurts him. He flies too close to the sun, then winds up bobbing in the Aegean surrounded by feathers. It’s not just that he’s selfish or that his shot selection is borderline psychotic or that his fight-or-flight instinct keeps screaming “four-point play!” It’s that he can do anything, so he tries to do everything. The whole idea of #LetWestbrookBeWestbrook is that watching a spectacularly gifted, idiosyncratic player operate without constraints is more fun than watching a clockwork offense — even his misfires are going to be tremendous. But everybody, including his defenders, acknowledges that the misfires are going to come.”


Story: Russell Westbrook: The Masked Mamba Makes His Case for NBA MVP
Publication: Rolling Stone
Date: March 12, 2015
Author: Seerat Sohi

Summary: This piece captured the late stages of an epic run Russell Westbrook made during the 2014-15 season as Kevin Durant struggled with injuries. This was the first season in which Westbrook led the league in scoring and fully emerged from Durant’s shadow as an elite basketball talent. In exploring Westbrook’s play, Sohi also unpacks some interesting comparisons with Kobe Bryant.

Money Quote: 

“In Kevin Durant’s three-week absence, Russell Westbrook’s public persona has shifted from being a bull-headed, media-hating athlete who took shots away from KD to America’s latest beloved outlier, a gruff anti-hero (and All-Star Game MVP) whose striking play occasionally rails against new-age tenets of efficiency, shot selection and ball movement.”


Story: Distant Thunder: What Did Oklahoma City’s Media Do to Piss Off Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant?
Publication: Grantland
Date: March 20, 2015
Author: Bryan Curtis

Summary: Late in the 2014-15 season, amid the best stretch of basketball he’d played in his career, Westbrook’s demeanor took center stage. A viral locker room moment with The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel highlighted the friction between Westbrook and the media. This was all part of a growing swell of coverage on Westbrook’s personality. This was always intertwined with an understanding of his play on the court but from this point on, production and personality were inseparable in any discussion of Westbrook.

Money Quote: 

“Tramel asked Westbrook: ‘Are you upset with something?’

Westbrook’s eyes darted back and forth. Then they met Tramel’s — for one of the few times in their seven years together, according to Tramel. Westbrook said, ‘I just don’t like you.’”


Story: Russell Westbrook opens up: All there really is to the Thunder superstar
Publication: Sports Illustrated
Date: March 21, 2015
Author: Lee Jenkins

Summary: This in-depth feature, published exactly one day after the Grantland deep-dive into his relationship with the media, is a much more expansive look at Westbrook at the point in his career when he was generating the most controversy. The anecdotes Westbrooks shares with Jenkins about his childhood are incredibly revealing but the richest sections of this piece come from Westbrook and his teammates describing his energy and mindset on the court.

Money Quote: 

“Later he will watch himself on video and see a stranger, screaming, chest-thumping, brandishing imaginary pistols. ‘A crazy man,’ Westbrook says. ‘I don’t even know what I’m doing.’ When he walks to the free throw line, he reminds himself to breathe: ‘After an and-one, I’m screaming so loud and my adrenaline is so high, I can’t really calm down.’”


Story: Russ and Diamonds: Westbrook Isn’t the MVP — and That’s Perfectly OK
Publication: Grantland
Date: April 17, 2015
Author: Brian Phillips

Summary: This Phillips piece captures the end of Westbrook’s 2014-15 season, a major turning point in his career and one in which he finished fourth in the MVP race. But mostly it’s noteworthy for Phillips’ prose and ability to spin a Westbrook analogy better than perhaps any basketball writer around.

Money Quote: 

“Russell Westbrook is not the MVP because the MVP should compete against the opposing team, not against the concept of basketball itself.

Russell Westbrook is not the MVP because the MVP should execute a plan successfully, not somehow turn a crisis into a flaming starship that crash-lands in a realm beyond failure and success.”


Story: The evolution of Russell Westbrook is complete
Publication: ESPN
Date: November 18, 2015
Author: Royce Young

Summary: After leading the league in scoring during the 2014-15 season, in which Kevin Durant played just 27 games because of injury, Westbrook began the 2015-16 setting a torrid pace in his assists. His points-per-game average dropped by almost five points with the return of Durant but he finished the season 10.4 assists per game, a career-high to that point by nearly two assists per game. You would think this hard pivot from elite scorer to elite facilitator would have quieted some of the pervasive criticism but this piece from Young, early in the season, lays out how his assist totals just became the next battleground in the Russell Westbrook culture wars.


Story: Everything you always wanted to know about Russell Westbrook but were afraid to ask
Publication: ESPN
Date: May 24, 2016
Author: Royce Young

Summary: This lengthy listicle may not offer much depth into Westbrook’s character, at least not explicitly. But nothing else I’ve come across offer as much breadth — it has everything from stories about his high school recruitment to his favorite music and brand of headphones.

Money Quote: 

“He often listens to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift before games.

‘It’s good s—,’ he said. And he always uses standard iPhone earbuds.

He’s trying (has tried?) to learn guitar.

His wife bought him an acoustic for Christmas two years ago. Asked how that was going last season, Westbrook said, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna need a lesson.’


Story: Russell Westbrook: ‘I Was Never Going To Leave’
Publication: Sports Illustrated
Date: October 19, 2016
Author: Lee Jenkins

Summary: Leading into the 2016-17 season, Kevin Durant opted to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors. The circumstances of his departure raised questions about his relationship with Westbrook, adding another layer of complexity to Westbrook’s reputation. There were also very real questions about whether he Westbrook would want to stay in Oklahoma City, questions he answered by signing a massive three-year extension with Thunder before the season started. This is a fascinating look at how Westbrook decided to stay and his mindset heading into his first season without Durant (a season that ended with him leading the league in scoring while averaging a triple-double.

Money Quote: 

“Not long after Durant’s decision Westbrook returned to Oklahoma City for his annual basketball camp, and general manager Sam Presti met him back at the dog-food gym. The Thunder were prepared to offer Westbrook a maximum contract extension, and if he turned it down, they’d have no choice but to consider those trade offers. ‘I don’t want you to do this because you feel you need to,’ Presti said. ‘I want you to do it because you want to.’ Westbrook could have told Presti that he’d talk about free agency next year, setting up the Summer of Russ, and all the ensuing attention. But Presti had a pretty good feeling that he wouldn’t. ‘One way or another he lets you know where you stand,” Adams says, “and he doesn’t do it with a whisper. He does it with a few more decibels than that.’”


Story: The Misunderstood Genius of Russell Westbrook
Publication: The New York Times
Date: February 1, 2017
Author: Sam Anderson

Summary: Midway through the 2016-17 season, the reality of Westbrook’s season-long triple-double average really took hold. The NBA world became obsessed and, in the context of Durant’s departure, his box score numbers took on the veneer of a mythic creed, Westbrook’s dissertation on what basketball should be.

Money Quote: 

“Westbrook is not merely a superelite athlete (he is commonly referred to as the most athletic player in the N.B.A.); he also has a highly unusual mind. He is moody, stubborn, loyal and fiercely private, a control freak and a perfectionist. Outside a very small circle of family and friends, he refuses to be known. The triple-doubles, their sheer unreasonableness, are as much a reflection of this personality as of any particular basketball skills. Each time he registers one it is like a signal — a ping from the sealed box of his private mind.”


Story: A Man Apart
Publication: ESPN The Magazine
Date: March 13, 2017
Author: Tim Keown

Summary: This piece follows a similar arc to the previous New York Times profile, but came a month later in the season and thus a month closer to Westbrook actually making history by becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season. The added perspective comes with a few extra details about Westbrook’s approach and preparation on his way to the impossible.

Money Quote: 

“Westbrook is a compulsive organizer, thriving on order and routine. He brings his household bills and a stack of envelopes to the practice facility and pores over them at breakfast. “He’ll be like, ‘$45 for this and $35 for that,’” says longtime Thunder teammate Nick Collison. “Details matter to him.” He has his own shower and his own massage table in the team’s training facility. He makes a pregame call to his parents on his way to the arena. He eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before every game, and it has to be cut in a precise diagonal. He says a prayer out loud to himself at the exact same moment of every national anthem, just as the song hits its final two lines. After introductions and before tip-off, he runs to a spot underneath the opponent’s basket and pumps his arms three times, his thumbs pointing to his shoulders, as if to say, It’s all on these. At halftime he gets his ankles re-taped, then changes into a clean uniform for the second half.”


Story: Russell Westbrook can’t be OKC’s entire system anymore
Publication: ESPN
Date: April 13, 2018
Author: Zach Lowe

Summary: At the end of the 2017-18 season, Westbrook was headed for an unprecedented season-long triple-double but even with the addition of Paul George the Thunder couldn’t crack 50-wins. The chorus who saw his box score dominance as a flaw grew louder. Lowe does an incredible job here of breaking down what the Thunder ceiling could be with Westbrook playing this way, an analysis that has remained remarkably relevant over the nearly four years since this was written.

Money Quote: 

“A team can win at the highest level with Westbrook heading its offense. The Thunder almost got there in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Injuries torpedoed their 2013 and 2014 playoff runs. Given good health, they might have won a title playing almost exactly as they are now.

Of course, those teams had Westbrook, Durant, and Serge Ibaka together at or near their absolute apex as athletes — and with Harden alongside them, coming off the bench (and holy hell does that feel like a different life) during their 2012 Finals run. It is very, very hard — to the point of being unreasonable to claim it as an end goal — for any franchise to collect so much young supernova talent at once. It is irreplicable for Oklahoma City now. Westbrook is 29, and the Thunder are capped out.”


Story: Russell Westbrook can’t be OKC’s entire system anymore
Publication: ESPN
Date: April 13, 2018
Author: Zach Lowe

Summary: At the end of the 2017-18 season, Westbrook was headed for an unprecedented season-long triple-double but even with the addition of Paul George the Thunder couldn’t crack 50-wins. The chorus who saw his box score dominance as a flaw grew louder. Lowe does an incredible job here of breaking down what the Thunder ceiling could be with Westbrook playing this way, an analysis that has remained remarkably relevant over the nearly four years since this was written.

Money Quote: 

“A team can win at the highest level with Westbrook heading its offense. The Thunder almost got there in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Injuries torpedoed their 2013 and 2014 playoff runs. Given good health, they might have won a title playing almost exactly as they are now.

Of course, those teams had Westbrook, Durant, and Serge Ibaka together at or near their absolute apex as athletes — and with Harden alongside them, coming off the bench (and holy hell does that feel like a different life) during their 2012 Finals run. It is very, very hard — to the point of being unreasonable to claim it as an end goal — for any franchise to collect so much young supernova talent at once. It is irreplicable for Oklahoma City now. Westbrook is 29, and the Thunder are capped out.”


Story: The Many Stages of Russell Westbrook Fandom
Publication: The Ringer
Date: January 10, 2018
Author: Brian Phillips

Summary: We’ve already established that no one explains the fundamental paradox of Russell Westbrook quite as astutely or entertainingly as Brian Phillips. Here he perfectly captures the experience of rooting for him.

Money Quote: 

“Stage 3: A Thoughtful Frown
Maybe he was … too good? Anyway it started to seem like he was taking shots that should have gone to Durant, and he missed a lot of them, and even though he’d make up for it by, say, shouldering his way through three defenders and drilling a seemingly suicidal jumper with three hands in his face and 16 seconds left on the shot clock, it was concerning. In the national discourse of Russ, a thread of mistrust began to uncurl, like poison in a water glass. Sportswriters in Oklahoma started writing columns telling him to tuck in his Engineered Garments interview cuirass and buy some lenses for the librarian glasses.”


Story: It’s Time To Talk About Russell Westbrook
Publication: 538
Date: April 22, 2019
Author: Chris Herring

Summary: 538 is known for their statistical analysis but this piece largely leaves the numbers behind for a focus on the fundamental basketball questions Westbrook raised as the Thunder crumbled in the playoffs again. In a bit of foreshadowing, this came at the end of the 2018-19 season, Westbrook’s last in Oklahoma City.

Money Quote: 

“But that’s seemingly the question at play: If Westbrook can simply snap his fingers and put his imprint on the game the way he wants to at times, why does he opt to settle for the sorts of shot attempts that he rarely gets to fall? His lack of consistency — which seems bizarre to knock after seeing him average a triple-double for the third straight year — becomes amplified in a postseason setting, where transition possessions are limited, each shot is meaningful, and every loss feels close to fatal.”


Story: Russ Is Gone: A Sad Farewell to an Oklahoma Icon
Publication: The Ringer
Date: July 12, 2019
Author: Tyler Parker

Summary: There were no universally held opinions on Westbrook, even in Oklahoma City. But his connection with Thunder fans was deep and the reaction to his being traded to the Houston Rockets was wrought and visceral, as exemplified by this Tyler Parker piece.

Money Quote: 

“With young Westbrook, you sometimes got the sense that he put up with gravity, but didn’t respect it. He had this endless energy that was backed by a brashness typically reserved for gunslingers. He hunted posters and played mad, threw his body around. He dented his face. He ripped up his knees. He broke his hand. He’d lose his head and find it again and lose it again and find it again and the middle-school basketball coaches among us would wring their hands and shake their heads and complain about shot selection and the benefits of making the extra pass. They’d speak longingly of the honest, patient floor general. The coach on the floor. The maestro who controls his team and knows when to pick his spots. The thing about Westbrook is, he’s not interested in tradition. He never has been. He’s about the present and he’s always himself, for better and for worse.”


Story: Does Russell Westbrook’s polarizing game have a shelf life?
Publication: ESPN
Date: January 9, 2020
Author: Royce Young

Summary: Young spent years covering Westbrook with the Thunder. Here, in the midst of Westbrook’s first season with the Houston Rockets and on the eve of his first game in Oklahoma City as a visitor, Young looks at the present and future of a player looking more out of place than he ever has.

Money Quote: 

“As Westbrook returns to Oklahoma City on Thursday for the first time as an opponent, he’ll be showered with adoration and appreciation of the moments that made him the franchise’s most beloved player. He is going to get the full tribute treatment — something never done before for a returning Thunder player — and the night will be about celebrating Westbrook’s impact on the franchise and city at large.

But the harsh reality is that the player who is returning looks a little less like the Russell Westbrook they remember.”


Story: ‘Let Westbrook be Westbrook’: A study of the phrase, the origin and its lasting legacy in OKC
Publication: The Athletic
Date: January 9, 2020
Author: Erik Horne

Summary: “Let Westbrook be Westbrook” has always been the rallying cry for defenders of Russell Westbrook. Here, longtime Thunder writer Erik Horne explores the origin of the phrase and how it was often wielded in conversations and coverage.

Money Quote: 

“Durant’s mere presence on the floor with Westbrook was how the idea of ‘Let Westbrook be Westbrook’ was primarily challenged. For many, the concept of Westbrook being passionate about the game wasn’t an issue, but when ‘Let Westbrook be Westbrook’ deprived Durant opportunities to impose his cold-blooded offensive efficiency on the Thunder’s opponent?”


Story: Russell Westbrook’s ‘seek-and-destroy’ mentality fuels his competitiveness and tenacity
Publication: The Athletic
Date: May 13, 2021
Author: Fred Katz

Summary: As Westbrook moved into a different phase of his career, with the Houston Rockets, then the Washington Wizards and now the Los Angeles Lakers, his bulk production may be far less important than what he brings in experience and mindset. The situation with the Wizards (a young rebuilding team) is the polar opposite of what he’ll find with the Lakers, but this look at his mentality at this point in his career should be instructive for Laker fans.

Money Quote: 

“Players, coaches and staffers up and down the Wizards have praised the way Westbrook has changed their culture, adding an intensity that wasn’t present before the organization traded for him six months ago. His college coach Ben Howland says ‘his motivation comes from within’ and it’s ‘why he is who he is.’ Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who drafted him in 2008, credits his ‘persistence.’”

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