When Lakers guard Russell Westbrook took to the mic on Monday and laid out just how personal — too personal — the criticisms directed towards him had become this season and call out the death threats sent to his wife, it was a stark reminder that basketball is simply a game, and players are simply fellow humans.
Unsurprisingly, many quickly jumped to defend Russ, including teammate Kent Bazemore and Lakers legend Magic Johnson. Those defenses have continued in the days since, with head coach Frank Vogel addressing the situation prior to Wednesday’s game against the Rockets.
“He’s an important player for us. He’s a part of our family,” Vogel said. “Anytime when a player is feeling any type of impact at home with his family, that’s of great concern and should be handled with care. I hope people can respect what he had to say postgame the other night because it should never come to that.
“It’s a game of basketball. There’s always going to be criticisms. With this case, he’s referring to his family name and I hope people can respect that. From our standpoint, he’s a part of our family, and you offer to support him in every way that you can.”
While Vogel and Westbrook have butted heads, it’s always been in a professional sense with disagreements about his playing time or role with the Lakers. But it’s never overflowed into anything other than on-court matters.
Vogel isn’t the only one coming to Westbrook’s defense recently. On Thursday, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports released an interview with Steph Curry in which he offered his support to Westbrook, revealing he had shared that support with him directly during the Lakers-Warriors game last week.
“I told him when we played them in L.A. a couple of days ago that I respect how he’s handled the whole year, just in terms of everything he’s been saying and how he’s been handling himself and protecting his family,” Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry told Yahoo Sports. “It is the nature of the beast. And in a certain perspective, they build you up to break you down. The real ones who have done amazing things in this league know what that means. He’s a professional, and I’m proud of the way he’s conducting himself, and I’m there for him.”
“The fan perspective, it is kind of B.S. when it crosses the line in terms of attacking somebody personally, their name, and not keeping it to just basketball,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “That’s why we’re all here is because of basketball. But at the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do to speak up for yourself and also understand that the guys that know what’s going on in this league respect the type of player he is. Russ definitely has my support.”
While it may not be a surprise that so many have backed Westbrook, it doesn’t take away from the impact those public displays of support have.
When it comes to someone like Steph Curry, it’s not necessarily expected of him to come out and publicly support Westbrook from afar. For that, his support likely carries a little extra weight.
In a different sense, having Vogel — who, as mentioned, has had his disagreements with Westbrook this year — support him as well likely means something, too. It’s another sign of the sort of brotherhood or bond that those around the NBA have with one another and, with Vogel specifically, what type of coach and person he is.
It’s remarkably unfortunate and frustrating that any of this needed to happen, that the threats and mocking of Westbrook even exists, and the calling it out by Westbrook and the support of him all came as a result. But if there is a silver lining, it’s served as a sobering reminder of how pointless the game of basketball can be, and that we should all be a little more respectful of one another’s boundaries.