HOUSTON — They all have stories about the most misunderstood young man in basketball, scenes and shared experiences that illustrate what the Thunder's three-time All-Star is really all about.
“The only way I can describe it is he's a force of nature when it comes to competition,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
This is what you might not know about Russell Westbrook.
On a stage filled with the game's elite and most electrifying point guards, Westbrook wants winning to be what separates him from the pack.
At 24, he's off to a significant head start.
Among the five other point guards selected for Sunday's 62nd NBA All-Star Game, none can claim what Westbrook can: two career conference finals appearances, an NBA Finals appearance and Olympic gold. Add to that, Westbrook already has 24 postseason wins under his belt and a rapidly-improving regular season winning percentage of .586.
Behind his lens-free frames, endless quirky outfits and unpredictable and inexplicable mood swings, that's what Russell Westbrook really is all about. Winning.
“I don't think people know that,” Westbrook said Friday. “They never see it that way. I think when somebody already has a perception of you that's kind of what they're looking for and I think that's just kind of how it is. That's how it's going to be. But my job is to find a way to help my team win.”
Two podiums away from Westbrook as he patiently made his way through a mandatory 27-minute media session — admittedly his least favorite part of All-Star Weekend — was Tony Parker. Another two daises down was Chris Paul. Both commanded significantly more attention than Westbrook, perhaps no coincidence given the public's perception of the Thunder's floor general and how many think he mans the position.
The truth, though, is that Westbrook has won more than his fair share of matchups against those considered to be the cream of the crop, a few in dominant fashion. He's 8-5 against Brooklyn point guard Deron Williams and 3-3 against Chicago's Derrick Rose. Neither was selected to this year's All-Star Game but both are widely considered premier point guards. Westbrook is 3-5 against Boston's Rajon Rondo, 5-9 against Paul and 5-10 against Parker.
But five of Westbrook's losses against Paul came before the 2010-11 season, back when Westbrook was just a second-year string bean on an up-and-coming Thunder team that still was searching to find its way. Four of Westbrook's defeats against Parker came in that same time frame.
Many of the more recent matchups have gone Westbrook's way or been a push.
There was a time when Westbrook judged himself by his performance against those others lead guards. Not anymore.
“I think maybe my first two years. But that's just because that's how I am,” Westbrook said. “But as I got older and I seen if you win the game, then that's all that matters. I can go 3-for-16. If my team wins the game then I'm fine. I feel like I did a better job than the other guy did.”
It only stands to reason then that Westbrook, coming off a Finals appearance, views himself at or near the top of the list of elite point guards.
“I rate myself by how my team is doing,” Westbrook said. “If my team is doing great then I feel like I'm at the top where I need to be. When my team gets to the Finals I feel like I did my job of helping my team getting to the Finals and I feel like I'm at the top of the game.
“My goal is to become a winner. I think the more you win the better you're off, no matter if you average 30 or if you average 15. If your team is winning then you've got to be considered (the best) in something. That's just kind of how I feel.”
As the basketball world prepares to celebrate Michael Jordan's 50th birthday Sunday, Westbrook was asked which part of Jordan's game he would like to embrace.
“Maybe his competitive nature,” Westbrook said. “He competed every play, offensively and defensively.”
Another question was posed about what one move Westbrook felt like he had to learn to get to this All-Star level and become a much better player.
“Win,” he countered. “I think when you put yourself in a position to win, it gives you an opportunity to be able to enjoy moments like this.”
Spoelstra vividly remembers walking into a nondescript Las Vegas gym on a hot summer morning to workout a player for the Heat. To his surprise, Westbrook was in the gym, taking up residence on the court. It was 9 a.m.
“That's pretty early in the morning in Vegas,” Spoelstra reminded. “We open up the gym doors and there's Russell Westbrook, in full sweat already. It looked like he had been in there for an hour, an hour and a half. He was getting after it. So his success is not by accident.”
Brook Lopez, the Nets center who competed against Westbrook in college, throughout the pre-draft process and to this day in the summers, had to monitor himself from going into too much detail about Westbrook's will to win.
“We've had games stop before because guys really get going,” Lopez said.
New York forward Carmelo Anthony remembers it from last year's Olympics. Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving encounters it twice a season. Parker faced it in a pivotal Western Conference Finals series last year.
“He's a dog,” said Philadelphia guard Jrue Holiday. “He's always going to attack you. He's always coming at you. It's like it just never stops. He's just coming for you.”