Ray Westbrook was sweating.
And it had nothing to do with a certain tweet calling for a certain coach’s head.
He reclined on a red padded weight bench with a 70-pound dumbbell in each hand. As rap music thumped out of the gym’s sound system, he lifted the weights above his head, opened his arms, then raised the weights above his head again.
One. Two. Three. ...
After the last one, Ray tossed the weights onto the padded floor with a dull thud.
“Woo!” he exclaimed, standing up from the bench and smiling.
He’s always smiling. Saying hello. Shaking hands. Waving.
Would you guess he is Russell Westbrook’s brother?
For several years, Ray has been living in Edmond, going to college, trying to play football and riding shotgun with his brother. He wasn’t hiding, but he was content to do his thing. Then, he took a turn into a very public spotlight a week ago when he tweeted during the Game 3 loss to the Grizzlies that the Thunder needed a new coach.
Pretty sure that made him a hero to a segment of Thunder Nation.
But for a franchise that abhors anything that even hints at public dissension, this was DEFCON stuff for the Thunder. The delete button was hit. An apology was made. A chance encounter on the streets of Memphis with Oklahoman writers, however, made it clear that Ray still believes Scott Brooks should go.
It was no surprise that he stopped and chatted and shared his two cents. Ray is as friendly as they come.
Hang out in the arena after Thunder games, and you will see players’ families and friends. Ray might be the last guy who you would pick out to be Russell’s brother. They don’t look alike. They don’t act alike.
You mean, this is Westbrook’s brother?
On the day that this first-round playoff series between Oklahoma City and Memphis returns to the scene of his 140-character crime, it seems appropriate to pull back the curtain on this personality.
Meet Ray Westbrook.
Shannon and Russell Westbrook always encouraged their boys, Russell and Raynard, to stick together. They lived in Los Angeles neighborhoods where drugs, fights and gunshots were part of the fabric of their lives, so knowing who to trust was difficult.
“You’ll always have your brother,” Shannon often told them.
The brothers became inseparable. They looked to each other for advice, inspiration, even tough love.
Ray’s freshman year at Leuzinger High School was rough. He wanted to fit in and spent his time trying to be popular, and his academics suffered. His classes were a struggle. His grades were a mess.
Then a senior at Leuzinger on his way to play basketball at UCLA, Russell took his little brother into his bedroom one day and had a heart-to-heart about how Ray was acting.
“That’s not what you want to do,” Russell lectured. “If you want to get to the next level like I’m going, you’ve got to do this.”
Ray took notice, getting his grades right and getting his eligibility back. Even though he was only 5-foot-8, he worked his way onto the football team. He played running back, linebacker, even some special teams.
He looked a little like a bowling ball crashing into guys, but even at 220 pounds, he was a bowling ball with pretty darn quick feet. Search for “Raynard Westbrook #4” on YouTube, and you can see for yourself.
Before Ray’s senior season, Russell got drafted by the Thunder and wanted little brother to move to Oklahoma. The brothers were always together, so neither like the idea of being 1,400 miles apart. They looked into Ray finishing high school at Heritage Hall, but because of transfer rules, he wasn’t going to be able to play football, so he decided to stay in California.
It was a difficult decision.
“We never really spent that much time apart,” Ray said. “From us being together every day to us not really seeing each other was hard.”
Even when Russell had been in college, he didn’t leave town. He was only half an hour away at UCLA.
So, Ray flew to Oklahoma every chance he got. A long weekend. A school break. Even if it was only for a couple days, Ray would travel half way across the country to see Russell.
Ray finished his senior year, then went to El Camino College, a junior college in nearby Torrance, to play football. During his freshman season, a few colleges started recruiting him. Among them was Central Oklahoma, of all places.
The Bronchos wanted him in Oklahoma.
So did big brother.
But Ray decided to stay for a second season at El Camino. He liked his team. He had good friends. And what if he played well enough to catch the eye of a Division-I school?
His sophomore season got off to a good start for both him and the team, but then midway through the season, one of the players was ruled ineligible and the team had to forfeit all of its games to that point. It knocked the season off the tracks.
But UCO’s interest in Ray continued, so he signed with the Bronchos.
Like his brother, he moved to Oklahoma to play ball.
Ray ended up being ineligible to play in 2011, his first season at UCO, but he was expected to be a back-up running back the next season. After spring classes finished and before offseason workouts began, he went home to see family and celebrate his 21st birthday.
His mom threw a big party. Everyone was having a great time.
But Ray was a little worried about one of his best friends, Ken McRoyal. They met during summer football camps, and even though they went to different high schools, they became close. Then, they went to El Camino together.
Both were undersized. Both had doubters. And both had big, engaging personalities.
But that night at the birthday party, Ken seemed a little off. Ray knew he had been drinking, and when Ken said he was going out after the party, Ray was skeptical.
“I don’t think you should go,” Ray told him. “Just come with me. Let’s go eat.”
But Ken waved him off and headed out.
Less than an hour later, Ray got a phone call from a friend.
“Ken got shot,” he told Ray.
Soon, the phone rang again. This time, it was Ken’s girlfriend. She was hysterical, crying and screaming.
Ken’s death became a national story. He was a wide receiver at Idaho, and his journey there resonated with people everywhere. His family had moved to California after Hurricane Katrina flooded their New Orleans home. They carried out some of personal possessions, but as flood waters continued to rise, they eventually had to abandon everything. They were left with only the clothes on their backs.
They waded through reeking waters, past dead bodies.
He graduated high school, went to junior college, then walked on at Idaho. After paying his own way for a year, he finally learned that he was getting a scholarship, then left for California a few days later.
He never made it back to campus.
“It changed my whole life,” Ray said. “It changed me to who I am today.”
Ray Westbrook was sweating again.
After nearly two hours of lifting weights of all shapes and sizes at Athletic Republic, a gym just down the street from the Thunder’s old practice facility, his black shirt with the white Jordan logo was sticking to his barrel chest. But there was still work to do.
On a hardwood surface painted with numbers and color blocks for plyometrics, he hopped for 30 seconds, his purple and neon pink Jordan 28s moving as fast as he could make them. He went from number to number, then block to block.
Thirty seconds never lasted so long.
Who knows what’s next for him. He never did play football for UCO, but he is on track to get his bachelor’s degree in communications later this month. Then, he would like to walk on to the football team at Oklahoma State and start work on a master’s degree in the fall.
Until then, he’ll keep riding shotgun with his big brother. Yes, they make for an odd couple, Russell in his designer duds and Ray in his Russell Westbrook replica jerseys. Sure, they seem an unlikely pair, Russell so brooding and Ray so happy-go-lucky.
But don’t expect any more headline-grabbing tweets from little brother. Ray Westbrook is staying off the social media site for awhile.
Too bad. Things were just getting good.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.