Lakers star Russell Westbrook has had quite a few back-and-forths with reporters covering him and his teams over the years, and the latest entry in that long pantheon came on Thursday. But first, some context.
In the summer of 2021, there was a report that Westbrook had tried to come home to Los Angeles for the first time a few years ago, attempting to team up with Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers, a phone call that Leonard reportedly used to turn around and recruit Paul George to force a trade back home. It’s a moment that it’s not hard to imagine was at least part of the reason Westbrook told Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard “hell no” when asked if he’d be OK with a trade to the Clippers this past offseason.
It all lead up to Thursday, when — after the Lakers had their seventh practice of the season to get ready for Westbrook’s first game against the Clippers while wearing purple and gold — Westbrook was asked by the local media about the report that he had tried to team up with Leonard in 2019. But rather than respond to those rumors, he first wanted to push back on the concept of anonymous sourcing in sports journalism.
Below is a transcript of the exchange, lightly edited for length and clarity. Media questions are in bold, and Westbrook’s responses are in quotes:
On the PG front, before he ended up with the Clippers, there was some reporting that you had some interest maybe in joining up with Kawhi, and I’m just curious how as you look back at that situation, and how you think that story has kind of played out for the two of you since that moment?
“Reports? Reports from who?”
I think there were a couple of different reports over this summer that you had maybe had some conversations with Kawhi, and that was used to maybe facilitate PG coming to the Clippers.
“I know. You didn’t tell me where they were from.”
Like what outlets?
“Yeah, I want to know who you got it from.”
I think there was an ESPN report, there was an Athletic report, it’s been out there.
“I know. From who though?”
I don’t have the...
“Ahhh, then I don’t have an answer for you, neither. You can’t tell me who you got it from, then I don’t really know.”
So is that not true?
“I asked you who you got it from, you can’t give me an answer, right? So you’ve got to find a different question.”
That was a different question!
“Well, sorry for you.”
Was it true?
“Where did you get your question from? Who is your source?”
I got it from reading about the NBA.
“OK, and who did they get it from? Do you know?”
They got it from the people they talked to.
“And who was that?”
For all I know it was you! Was it you?
“(Laughs) Nah, I don’t talk to the media, it can’t be me.”
Were you interested in coming to play with Kawhi here?
“Man, listen, I never sit back and call anybody. I sit back and wait, and figure out if somebody wants to play with me, and then cool, that conversation can happen. But those private conversations that are had, I keep that to myself, so I have no answer as it pertains to that.”
After the media session diverted for a few more minutes and appeared to be wrapping up, however, Westbrook paused his departure for a mostly friendly philosophical discussion with the media to explain why he took exception to the question, and why he has a distaste for anonymous sourcing in general.
It was a fascinating window into the perspective behind Westbrook’s occasional tête-à-têtes with reporters, and how he (and, presumably, at least a few other players) view the modern state of NBA media:
“You asked me a story based off a story that someone else had written, but you don’t know where they got it from, or you don’t know if it’s true.”
I would say that the erosion of relationships directly between athletes and reporters has made this awkward.
“I’m talking about for me, I don’t know what nobody else do. I have no relations with no media outlet where they come to me and go ‘here, Russ, I got a source for you.’ That’s not what I do, and now you guys know that.”
Like I said, I think that’s where, like people speak for you or speak around you and that’s what happens.
“I don’t let nobody speak for me. If you don’t hear it from me, don’t go with ‘the source said.’ Sources will get you in trouble.”
Don’t you think it’s fair that now that reports are out there, that we come to you and ask?
“You can ask. It’s how you ask it, though. It’s how you ask the question. Where you get it from. That’s very important. How you ask it, it’s different, it’s very direct... (Don’t) put a bunch of bullshit in the question. There’s just a difference. You ask me very direct, ‘hey, do you know duh duh duh?’ Simple, I can tell you ‘nah,’ or I can keep it to myself.”
To be fair, you didn’t really answer (the original question).
“I didn’t, and he didn’t answer mine, either. So, if he don’t know where he got his question from, then I guess I don’t know anything either.”
It’s just like, as we deal with agents and stuff like that, that’s where this shit happens.
“It’s just important that you know where your sources of information are coming from. I understand that there are a lot of sources.”
I would say that if there were more conversations like this, (it would be better).
“I agree, but the problem is that’s not how it works. One time, this person reports something, like who reported it? Ramona reported a story about Kawhi (and I). I never talked to Ramona. Right? Like, I can talk to Kawhi, and I can talk to PG, I can talk to anybody, and they can say ‘well I never talked to her neither.’’
Well, it’s like telephone...
“That’s my point. So that’s why you can’t come to somebody if you do not know it’s actual facts.”
But if somebody came to you though, a reporter came to you and said like ‘I have heard this,’ what would you say?
“I would ask you from who.”
And then what if I told you?
“Well then I’m going to say ‘I don’t know that person.’ I’m gonna tell you the truth.”
What if Kawhi told her?
“I doubt it (laughs). Like I’m saying, me and Kawhi are cooler than somebody else, so that’s what I’m saying.”
Does all of that meant that Westbrook never wanted to play with Leonard? Maybe, maybe not. He never really, truly, answered the question. Which is fine. But whether one agrees or disagrees with the entirety of his opinions isn’t the point, because he does make some fascinating critiques of the way so much NBA media hands out anonymity like Halloween candy, and some of the problems that can lead to.
It’s something I’ve written about in the past, where opinions of people we would normally not care about are granted sometimes false authority by hiding behind an anonymous designation that sounds important, and favors are done by trumpeting executives, coaches players, or agents’ work in exchange for future scoops.
But there is also this specific issue that clearly bothers Westbrook, where players — by responding a report — are somewhat forced to lend the report credence by even acknowledging its existence. That doesn’t make such topics unfair to ask about, but it also makes it totally fair for players like Westbrook to prefer not to respond. Because if the sources of such stories can hide from the consequences of leaking them... why can’t Westbrook himself?