Outside of defense or attacking the rim, there may not be an element of basketball that Frank Vogel has more frequently talked up the value of during his two-plus years with the Lakers than “swag.” Vogel has used the term with the frequency of a middle-aged dad who just learned a cool new slang word from his teenager, most memorably to describe the impact of Rajon Rondo on multiple occasions.
But in terms of his appreciation for the nebulous concept of swag, Vogel may have found his match in another veteran guard on the roster: Russell Westbrook, who said after the team’s Friday night win over the Cleveland Cavaliers that no matter if the team is playing good or bad, they have to play with what Merriam Webster defines as “stylish confidence.”
“That’s something that I’m big on, just keeping our swagger up,” Westbrook said.
In a moment the assembled media hadn’t noticed yet, Westbrook had actually put those words into action on the court that evening:
At the team’s practice on Monday, Westbrook confirmed that yes, that is exactly what he did. And he added that it’s not something he really did much of before joining the Lakers this season.
“I’ve done it probably a few times maybe in Oklahoma, but literally, like when you’re from L.A., certain music, certain tunes just hit you differently,” Westbrook said, all smiles. “I was like ‘oh, this is my joint right here.’ And my feet started moving. That’s just how it works for me. I love to dance and it’s something that I enjoy doing, so it kind of happened in the middle of a game.”
Westbrook added that the moment just further reinforced what he was saying about wanting the team to have swag, no matter how the game is going.
“That’s just who I am, and in order for us to be who we need to be, I need to be who I am, and be free and do things where to me it seems normal, but everybody else was like ‘what the hell is doing?’” Westbrook said. “And I’m okay with that, (because) that brings a good energy to my teammates and it puts us in a happy place.
“I always remember that throughout a season and throughout a game you always want to make sure you’re having fun, win, lose or draw,” Westbrook continued. “For me personally, if I get so tense and so focused that I’m not having fun, then I lose track of what I’m supposed to be doing.”
There is something to that idea. Who wouldn’t perform better at work if they’re having fun? And Westbrook is clearly doing so while playing for his hometown team after getting past a few rough outings to start the year, and he says his teammates — who insisted all along that they just wanted Russ to be Russ — are enjoying watching it. Especially the video of him involuntarily Crip Walking to “G’d Up” by The Eastsidaz in the middle of a basketball game.
“They just said that’s just me being me. They know I like to joke and enjoy the game and have fun while doing it, but also at the same time, I’m going to compete to the best of my ability,” Westbrook said. “That’s just kind of who I am.”
The Lakers are embracing him for it, and if his swag continues to help the team win while breaking up the monotony of an 82-game season, it’s a fair bet that fans are going to embrace him for showing off his inner Los Angeles kid, too.