He looked like Russell Westbrook. He sounded like Russell Westbrook. But I'm not convinced.
Too much smiling. Too much introspection. Too much charm.
Westbrook sat down Thursday morning for a 17-minute interview with the Thunder press corps, his first public comments since the knee injury two weeks ago that required season-ending surgery.
And Westbrook could not have been more engaging. The guy who never met a chip he couldn't strap to his shoulder went all Dale Carnegie.
Westbrook was pleasant. Even insightful. Like this:
“Getting an MRI is always scary because it's always something. I feel like every time somebody gets an MRI they always come back with some bad news. So it was stressful, and once I got the MRI, then things got real. I had to figure out what I needed to do.”
Westbrook never is that descriptive when asked how he got around Tony Parker.
Did those surgeons in Vail do more than repair his meniscus? Did they cut the edge off his personality? Did the Grinch find a heart on the mountain?
“Wow,” said Scotty Brooks, when told of the personality transplant. “Come on.”
Foreman Scott thought I was kidding.
But scout's honor. Westbrook was light-hearted, agreeable and maybe even sweet, which will come as news to everyone from Goran Dragic to the Nugget mascot.
So, has the knee injury changed Westbrook?
The Thunder point guard played angry and seemed to live angry. If not angry, at least surly.
I mean, when Westbrook stormed off the bench and back to the locker room in the middle of a game in January? That was ignited because Westbrook was incensed by teammate Thabo Sefolosha. Who gets mad at the Swiss?
I've seen Westbrook bully a writer who wasn't even talking to Westbrook or anyone else. Westbrook seems to need an inner rage.
Of course, the Thunder brass swears by Westbrook. Says he's misunderstood. Says he's not really who he comes across as in the public marketplace.
When I described Westbrook's demeanor Thursday, Brooks said, “That's the Russ that we know.”
He has other witnesses. My cousin teaches at U.S. Grant High School. She told me that when Westbrook and three teammates made a Thunder community appearance at the school, the three other players were fine, nothing wrong with their attitude or actions, but that Westbrook was fantastic. Interacted with the kids like he grew up on their street. Stayed longer than necessary. Really seemed interested in making an impact.
So who knows what drives Westbrook? Maybe building a façade and inventing enemies fuels his engine. Maybe he believes letting the media – and therefore the masses – know anything about him will impede his desire to the best. And Westbrook's NBA ascent to very near that summit has been mighty impressive.
“I'm going to have to talk to him,” Brooks said of the Extreme Makeover: Westbrook edition. “I don't like that.”
Westbrook has removed the mask very few times in five Oklahoma City seasons. He let an ESPN magazine writer use fashion to peel back a little crust.
Heck, Westbrook didn't even crack when Thunder fans serenaded him in December 2011 with heartfelt chants of “Russ-ell, Russ-ell,” after a particular rough stretch of play. Didn't acknowledge the crowd. Kevin Durant did it for Westbrook.
But there Westbrook sat Thursday with no pretense. Maybe with no season to play, no games in which to become a destructive force for the opposition, Westbrook has no motivation to be surly. Maybe basketball brings to life Mister Grinch.
Maybe the Thunder brass is right. Maybe the guy sitting at the table with a cast on his leg and a smile on his face is the real Russell Westbrook.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.