Sam Alipour of ESPN The Magazine handled his interview with Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook with the deft touch of a safe-cracker. Alipour somehow got the tumblers to click during his in-depth interview with Westbrook, which you can read here. Alipour provides more than a peek into the previously impenetrable mind of Westbrook, a vault that never had been cracked to such an extent by anyone of the media persuasion.
The premise of Alipour’s project centered on Westbrook being the cover boy for the magazine’s Photo Issue. Seated with Westbrook at the Red Piano Bar at the Skirvin Hotel, Alipour maneuvered his way through a minefield while probing the egnimatic, elusive, esoteric, evasive, eclectic, egoistic Westbrook. Many of the questions had little to do with basketball, which Alipour admitted might have been the key to unlocking the vault.
“I wasn’t really aiming to talk hoops,” Alipour wrote in an e-mail, during which he humbly suggested, “Basically, I got lucky on this one.” This is by far the most insight Westbrook has shared in any interview I have read or attempted to write since he joined the NBA in 2008. Here are a few morsels of Alipour’s work, but do yourself a favor and experience the entire meal.
I’m going to start at the beginning, with a vague question, because nobody knows a thing about you.
I know, and that’s great. [He laughs.]
How would you describe your childhood?
My childhood was … interesting. I was born in LA, at Long Beach Memorial, and we moved around inner-city LA. Lawndale, I didn’t necessarily live there, but that’s where my high school was and where people think I’m from. I lived at 83rd, and 66th and Normandie — the inner city.
Yeah, virtually. I was in Hawthorne when I got to high school, and it got rougher and rougher as I got older. My childhood, I wouldn’t say it was bad. It helped me grow up. I stayed out of trouble. My parents taught me what’s wrong and right, and knowing that I had a little brother following me, I had to make sure I was doing the right thing so he knows what’s right, too. I was in the house nine days out of 10. There wasn’t nothing good outside for me.
So, let me tell you what I’ve heard about you — that you’re actually pretty shy.
And you’re fiercely private.
Yup. If I get to know somebody, I’ll open up, but other than that I like to sit back and observe things.
Let me tell you something else I’ve heard. I knew you were sharp, but this blew me away: Is it true you could’ve gone to Stanford for academics?
Yeah, I was about to go to Stanford out of high school.
For basketball, too?
No, for academics. Stanford didn’t recruit me for basketball. In high school, I was honor roll, sixth or seventh in my class GPA-wise, a 3.90 overall, but I got 4.0s all the time. And I wanted to go to Stanford. I mean, I wanted to play basketball, but my parents would always say, ‘Without school, you’ll be stuck.’ So I started paying more attention to school, and I played basketball along with it. But I was just getting noticed in basketball and I had to figure out what made sense in basketball, so I put a hold on school stuff. I wanted to go to Stanford, and my dean told me with my grades I was in good shape. But they didn’t want me for basketball.
Math. There’s something about solving problems — math problems or whatever it may be — that makes you feel like you accomplished something. I remember taking algebra, an advanced class — those were hard problems. And I was, just, interested.
Let’s fast-forward. Again, we don’t know much about you, so, who are you today?
[He laughs.] I chill at home. I bowl a lot here. I play video games. I shop ’til I drop. And I like to hang with my brother and my parents. We’re really close. My parents are in LA but they visit all the time. I visit, too. I got a little place, close to UCLA. When they’re around, it’s always fun and laughs. I just like hanging with my family. That’s when I’m happiest.
What do you bowl?
I bowl, average, probably 190. But I’ve had a lot of high scores, I’ll tell you that. [Laughs.] I’ll be by myself and …
Wait, you bowl by yourself?
I’ve done that many a times. I’ll bowl by myself and get in a full-on sweat. I’ll usually go in the afternoon when nobody’s there.
So, when you’re home, you’re playing video games?
Yup. I don’t know the last time I watched the news — I should, probably. And I don’t watch ESPN.
So, you’re among the most viral-worthy NBA players today — between the whistles, too. Let’s talk about some recent YouTube moments. First: You swatted the Nuggets mascot’s half-court attempts. Even Denver players told me that was hilarious. What were you thinking?
I was just having a little fun during the game. I wanted to get my team hyped, get them riled up, and it helped us out, got us into overtime. I think we went on a 13-2 run after that. You never know, certain things can spark your team and help you get over that hump.
Cameras recently caught you singing the words to Ke$ha’s jam on the bench. What’s up with that?
Eric [Maynor] dared me. Said I didn’t know the words to the song. I told him, I listen to it all the time — I know every word. I wouldn’t have sung it if he didn’t dare me.
And you were all over the blogs when you fired back at a reporter in the locker room. What annoyed you?
Some questions don’t need an answer. That’s the way I look at it.
What other things annoy you?
Messy stuff irritates me. I don’t like messiness. If you leave something around my house, I’ll tell you to move it back, clean it up, throw it in the trash — don’t matter, just get rid of it. I need stuff neat, organized. And once I start cleaning stuff, I don’t stop until it’s done. Otherwise I’m irritated all day.
Who from your personal life is allowed to chime in on your wardrobe?
I ask my mom. She knows what’s up. Before a game, I’ll walk over to her and she’ll tell me no or yeah or to change my shoes. Or, if she’s not in town, I’ll text her a picture. I’ll also ask my brother or my girlfriend, but she’s grown to like my style.
But everyone says you don’t care what people think.
I don’t care what outsiders think. Family is family.
Now, if you would, walk me through your process when you’re getting dressed up for a game.
On game days, I don’t do too much. I shower and then I nap for an hour or so. Getting dressed takes another 45 minutes. Ten minutes after that, I brush my hair and I’m out the door.
Hold up — Kevin Durant said you try on different lip balms and stuff.
[Laughs.] He was probably just making fun of me. I do Chap Stick, nothing special.
Pluck your eyebrows?
From time to time. Feet aren’t a big deal to me.
Flip-flops on dudes, yes or no?
Well, what type of flip flops? Gym-type flip-flops are OK, but not thongs.
- John Rohde