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Thunder: Another face of Russell Westbrook

For more than a year, I’ve been getting notifications about Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook and his Why Not? Foundation doing various events around Oklahoma City.

Holiday meals. Reading rooms. Unfortunately, the timing for me hasn’t worked for any of those previous events, and I’ve not been able to make it.

But Monday afternoon, Westbrook was going to open a reading room at Martin Luther King Elementary, my schedule was open, and I made plans to attend. And I wasn’t going to let a little Oklahoma snow storm keep me from going!

I’m so glad I sledded out to the school near NE 50th and Lincoln.

Westbrook was fantastic with the kids. Even though the first part of the event was about ceremony — the I’m-so-glad-to-be-able-to-do-this, here’s-a-plaque-to-put-on-the-wall, let’s-pose-for-pictures stuff — the bulk of the time was Westbrook reading to the kids. He invited a few of them to help him read, and even though a couple of the kiddos were shy or needed help, he didn’t flinch. He helped the ones who needed help. He encouraged them. He doesn’t have any children of his own, that I’m aware of, but he acted like all of us who are parents hope we act with our kids.

Then, after he finished reading and talking to the kids and they went back to class, Westbrook talked to the few of us media types who were there. It was an interesting five or so minutes.

Here’s a transcript of what he had to say:

Why did you decide to get involved in doing the reading rooms?

I think reading is important, man. The position I’m in, I think it’s very important for you to provide books for the kids, give them access and also reward them. I think having this reading room and giving them an opportunity to kind of come out and find books … it looks cool. They want to come in here and read, and this is something I love to do.

What did reading mean to you growing up?

Reading was big. Actually, my favorite book growing up was a book called, “Missing Since Monday,” a book that I read and used for a lot of book reports. I think to start reading a young age, to having things like this … I think it’s important for me to come back and give back any way I can.

Do you still find time to read?

A little bit. Not as much as I want to. That’s definitely one of my new year’s resolutions. (Smiles.) Read and take time and simmer down a little bit.

Do you have a certain type of book you like to read?

I think more learning about yourself and about other people. Those are books I’m more interested in, learning about other people.

With that platform you have, how important do you feel like this is to do things like this?

I think it’s important. Part of my task in the position I’ve been in is to give back any way I can. Being able to have different outlets and be blessed to do things I love every day, I think it’s important to show the kids how important it is to go to school and read and hopefully others follow.

You’ve said before how much you enjoy these non-basketball aspects of your life. How does all of this fit together? Does this help the basketball? Vice versa?

I was one of those kids. It’s just something that I feel like it was destined for me to do. I was one of those kids that came to school and was excited to have a special guest or someone to come in and talk to us. I know it helped me out a lot as a young boy growing up in the inner city. Now, I’m in the position to be able to do the same thing, so I think it’s important.

Do all these aspects of your life inspire the others?

Basketball is definitely a blessing. It’s something that I love to do. Basketball is an inspiration for people as well, but I think there’s other ways to inspire people off the floor. That’s one thing I’m in the process of working on, and that’s a good thing for me. There’s numerous ways you can inspire people, not just playing basketball. Obviously, that’s my platform, that’s something that’s given me an opportunity to do different things as well. But I think off the floor, whether it’s opening reading rooms, whether it’s fashion, whether it’s doing community appearances, whatever it is, you get a chance for people to get to know you more, get a chance to get an insight of who you are as a person off the floor.

Do these type of things give you energy when you play? I mean, basketball’s your main job …

For sure, man. Walking into this room and seeing all the kids scream and their eyes kind of go crazy, that gave me a boost of energy right there. Just seeing them get excited and seeing how much fun they had today was great.

You seem like a guy who rolls out of bed ready to play an NBA game. It doesn’t seem like you need any extra boosts.

Yeah. (Laughs.) I mean, I always can take an extra boost.

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›