OKLAHOMA CITY — After a contentious series against the Trail Blazers that ended in another first-round elimination and what some perceive as a dent in his reputation, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook shrugged off criticism Thursday.
“If you want to determine my career and what I’ve done over two, three games, you go ahead,” Westbrook said during his end-of-season exit interview with the media. “That don’t mean s— to me. It doesn’t. I’m going to wake up, like I told you before, three beautiful kids, I’m going to wake up and smile, be happy, enjoy my life. Doesn’t change anything about — talk about if I’m playing bad or who’s better, who’s not. I know who I am as a person, and that’s the biggest thing I can say about myself. I know who I am. I know what I’m able to do. I know my capabilities. I know what I’ve done. I know what I can and can’t do. So I’m OK with that. I’m OK with who I am. I’ll just be blessed to wake up every day and enjoy my life. The talk about — I don’t even know what talk you’re talking about, but whatever that is, you guys can keep talking about it, and I’m going to keep living my life.”
Westbrook has spent his career as one of the most polarizing players in the league. Criticism was raised again with his subpar series against the Blazers in which he struggled with his shooting.
“There used to be conversations if I was a ball hog, but now I lead the league in assists for the past three years or whatever it is, that’s getting squashed out,” he said. “So now the conversation is about shooting. Next year I’m going to become a better shooter. After that it’ll be probably, f—, my left foot is bigger than my right one. Who knows.
“So that’s why, back to your point, I don’t really care what people say, what they think about me, because it doesn’t really matter. I know what I’m able to do and know what I’m able to do at a high level every night, and nobody else can do what I can do on a night-in, night-out basis, and I truly believe that. If they could, I’m pretty sure they would. But I know for a fact that nobody can.”
A soft-spoken Westbrook talked with reporters for nearly 17 minutes, covering a variety of topics, including his abrasive style, on and off the court.
“When you do so much at a high level, a lot of haters come,” Westbrook said. “That’s how life is, man. That’s life, man. When you do so much, people going to try to pull and take away and try to take that away from you. But nobody can take away from me. I’ve been blessed, and I stay prayerful, stay thankful to be able to do what I’m able to do, and nobody can ever take that away from me, regardless of what it is, how many stories are written, how many stats are put up, how many numbers are put up.”
After becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double in a season in 2017, Westbrook averaged a triple-double for a third consecutive campaign. He was asked if he had made the triple-double “passé.”
“If it’s passé, so be it,” he said. “Let somebody else do it, or try to.”
The question was asked by Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel, who has been shunned by Westbrook since January. Westbrook made headlines for his approach to the media this postseason, particularly Tramel, to whom he would answer “next question” each time he was asked one by Tramel.
“It’s a tough position to be in because I know being around him, like I know where it’s coming from,” teammate Paul George said when asked if he ever cringes at Westbrook not doing himself any favors in terms of perception. “Like it just doesn’t come off the right way. But I know where it’s coming from. You know, he’s a guy of principles. Everything he does is off principles. He’s going to take care of himself and he’s going to look out for himself, and that’s what you’ve got to love about him, to be honest.”
George, who has become close friends with Westbrook since they became teammates two years ago, said that with Westbrook, so much of it is mistaking the basketball player as the person.
“I think Russ is honestly just as normal as anybody else,” George said. “I think anything he does is just amplified, and, you know, if anybody knows Russ on a personal level, you know that he’s as real as it gets. He’s 100 percent. He’s as pure as a person that you can find. If you’re watching him from afar, you might mistake that for him being a certain type of way. But honestly, man, he’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever been a part of.”
“I had a choice and a decision to go anywhere I wanted to in my career, and I chose to come back here,” George said. “I mean, come on, that says a lot on its own, what kind of person Russ is.”