The Lakers may be leaking with increasing fervor after the loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday that they’ve seen enough from the Russell Westbrook experiment, but many of the team’s home fans have been at that point for (at least) two games, when they started booing Westbrook at The Crypt.
The trend started during the team’s eventual home comeback against the New York Knicks — a rally Westbrook was benched for — but the moans, groans and jeers have only grown louder with each successive brick and blunder from The Brodie:
Russell Westbrook still at it. Lakers fans have had enough. pic.twitter.com/cALg5EqgYO— The Comeback (@thecomeback) February 6, 2022
After the team’s loss to Milwaukee, reporters asked Westbrook about being the subject of boos in his hometown, and the amateur media ombudsman started to do his trademark sarcastic laugh towards a question he didn’t like before the query was even over.
Then, in typical Westbrookian fashion, he played the contrarian.
“It’s a sign of respect. It’s a sign of respect. I don’t...” Westbrook said, trailing off briefly to think about what exactly he wanted to say. “My mindset and how I think about this game and what I’m able to do for this game is not predicated on boos. I have a platform that I’m able to use to do other things that God has blessed me to be able to do, and I will continue to do those things, regardless of if people boo for me, cheer for me, cuss me out, call me names. It doesn’t really matter.
“The most important part is that I continue to use my gift to play basketball, and use that platform to help people around the world. That’s all I can do. That’s it.”
"I told [AD and LeBron] I wish I could help them. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the game to help...that's not my call." Russell Westbrook addresses the media following tonight's 131-116 #Lakers loss. @LakersReporter pic.twitter.com/LJXE0tMCi6— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) February 9, 2022
Pressed further though, on if there is any extra sting to this happening in his own hometown in just his first season as a Laker, Westbrook again zagged a bit, saying that the part he enjoys about being home is “bigger than basketball” to him.
“As it pertains to the team, the team is not getting booed. So you’re asking about for me. That’s all I can respond about is myself, and what I’m able to do to be able to mentally stay in the right place and enjoy being at home,” Westbrook said. “(I) enjoy having the opportunity to be able to see my kids, take them to school every morning. See my family, my mom, my dad and my close friends every day, and I don’t take that part for granted.
“Basketball is a short time of your life,” Westbrook continued. “I enjoy it, have fun, and want to compete at the highest level, but it’s not the end-all be all. There’s something bigger than basketball that we can do as people, and I understand that, so that’s why I’m comfortable with whatever comes. Cheers, boos, it doesn’t really matter.”
Perhaps this mindset isn’t really a surprise for anyone who has been paying attention. After all, it was Westbrook who made waves in December for saying of the Lakers, “if we win a championship, cool. If we don’t, I’m OK with that too and life goes on.” However one feels about that mentality, Westbrook hasn’t exactly tried to hide how he really feels.
But no matter how much he says this isn’t a big deal, watching Westbrook play right now, it’s hard to fully believe that his confidence hasn’t been shaken at least a bit, whether by the boos, failure, or both. Anyone who has seen these games can see the metaphorical spinning Apple loading wheel above Westbrook’s head while he plays more often than not; sputtering, stopping and starting as he overthinks about what the right choices are, jarred by not being able to do the things he once could.
It’s all, honestly, a little hard to watch. And while it’s easy to understand why fans are frustrated with him, it’s also difficult to see how booing Westbrook is going to help. It’s not like he doesn’t realize he’s playing horribly. You can see it every pause and hesitation from a once effortlessly confident player, one who is no longer sure of himself. It seems at this point that the solution to what ails Westbrook isn’t going to come while with the Lakers, but on a human level, it’s hard not to feel for him at least a little bit.
Westbrook is of course not blameless for his inattention on defense that’s getting him benched, or the attitude of believing he’s above said consequences because of his past production — a mentality that’s on some level leading to said lapses — but he also didn’t trade for himself. This isn’t ALL his fault, even if he’s an easy scapegoat for fans to voice their frustrations at when he bricks yet another poorly chosen shot.
And so while Westbrook may have wanted to come home, and he may be enjoying the bigger-picture benefits that come from being around his family, it’s still hard not to wonder if, in his heart of hearts — and no matter what he says — if he would truly sign up for this again, if he had to do it all over.
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