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Berry Tramel  


Oklahoma City Thunder: Readers respond to Russell Westbrook

by Berry Tramel Modified: May 10, 2013 at 6:45 pm •  Published: May 10, 2013

Russell Westbrook displayed a new personality Thursday in his first press conference since knee surgery on April 27 ended his season. I wrote about the different Westbrook for the Friday Oklahoman, which you can read here.

I tried to capture Westbrook’s demeanor, both pre- and post-injury. I worried that the grandmotherly camp would rush to Westbrook’s defense. But not so much. I did get some interesting emails about Westbrook I thought I would share.

Michael: “You are basically talking about Westbrook as a trial lawyer. Sometimes in will and trust litigation, I deal with very bad people. But I am still a brother. It is kind of amusing when people at church think I came there to answer their legal questions. You probably don’t want to see me as a lawyer, because at that moment, I can’t tell whether you would qualify as my client or as my enemy. I remember one of my long time clients, explaining to someone who as a joke in my office, as I came back from looking something up, told me the deal was off. I said OK, but my client quickly said Mike has a switch. You do not want him to flip that switch. As Russell gets older, he will be able to handle this a little better. I remember once I walked into probate court right past a single mom and her son from our home group. She said her son said, ‘but mom,’ and she told him “he has his game face on.’ I think you hit on the reason. Now we know there is no chance he would be able to suit up even for the Finals. Like the song says, it is finished, the battle is over, it is finished, there will be no more war, it is finished.”

You know, I hadn’t thought of it that way. That a lot of us put on game faces, in a variety of vocations. Peace officers. Clergy. Teachers. I can tell you this. When I’m on deadline, I’m not going to bite your head off, but I’m not the same guy I am at 2 p.m. But I’m in the ballpark. Westbrook is not.

Our assistant sports editor, Scott Munn, who covered the hockey Blazers for many years, made a fascinating comparison: “Westbrook just doesn’t have his game face on. Reminds me of Doug Sauter. Coolest person I know out of season. Once the season starts, man, he can be one of the surliest folks I know.”

Not all coaches are like that. But some are. When Kelvin Sampson was at OU, he was one of the most approachable coaches of all time. You could ask him just about anything, at any time. He would get mad at you pretty often, then get over it by the next time you saw him. Wonderful trait. But about 20 minutes before tipoff of a game in the All-College, oh, probably late ’90s, I had to ask Sampson about something fairly toxic. He was sitting there by himself. He blew his stack. “Can’t believe you’d ask me that now.” I learned a lesson. Even the most accommodating coaches have their limits.

John: “I had a thought about the ‘mystery’ surrounding Westbrook’s sudden personality change.  It’s not a change at all.  His new demeanor was in there all the time and I would posit is his truer nature over all.  He is currently out of the ‘game,’ which for my purposes means he is off the stage of professional sports.  That’s right, the stage. Anyone who has ever attended a professional sporting event knows deep down that what they are witnessing a staged production that would easily pass for high drama (or sometimes comedy) on any stage on Broadway.  Sure, the outcomes are not staged (we hope), but the players, the venue, the personalities are all staged for the entertainment value they grant the crowd.  That’s why we continue to pay the big bucks for admission. It’s what keeps us coming back again and again. In this case, Perkins is the the mean villain (naked rage), KD the hero and Westbrook plays the dramatic foil, the unpredictable one who appears sullen and withdrawn, even angry at times but to whom everyone is strangely drawn because of his ‘mysterious factor.’  He is the foil to KD’s hero. It’s simple, IT’S THEATER!  Now I am quite sure that most of the unwashed masses who show up, pay for their admission and consume mass quantities of adult beverages while screaming their heads off at the referees (who also play their role as well) have no idea of the truth of this statement. However,  if you look carefully between the lines (or behind the curtain, Mr. Wizard) there is no question that what you are observing is a carefully scripted dramatic production carefully directed and produced to provide the viewing public with the maximum entertainment value for their hard earned dollar. Westbrook is a nice guy trapped in a dramatic role he was hired to play.”

Really interesting thought. But i don’t buy it. Westbrook is not filling a role. Westbrook is Westbrook. Put him in Toronto or at UCLA or selling Subarus in Vegas. Doesn’t matter. This is who he is. A guy who has a personality for certain situations (like basketball season) and a certain personality for others.

Mary: “I swim with several older ladies and we all love Russell just as he is. He plays with such energy and gives his all in every game. He receives too much criticism at times. I think that at some of the post game press conferences, he has just not calmed down yet. But we all have seen that twinkle in his eyes and think off the court he is a sweet young man. I think the Thunder needs a little attitude. I wrote Sam Presti before the playoffs began and tried to get him to sign Allen Iverson.”

Talk about impeaching yourself. Sam Presti will sign Allen Iverson when the NRA makes Obama its honorary chairman. But like I said, I knew some people would rush to Westbrook’s defense. I don’t see the twinkle, myself. Not until yesterday.


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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