OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook is a multi-millionaire basketball player, far removed from the rough community he came from in the Los Angeles area.
When the Thunder All-Star learned about the recent police shootings of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Keith Scott in Charlotte, his mind went right back to his old neighborhood.
“Me growing up in the inner city and being able to see different things on a night in and day in, day out basis – it hit home for me, just being able to see the different things that’s going on globally, and giving people across the world an opportunity to see it,” Westbrook said at Thunder media day on Friday. “Now, it’s getting to a point that there’s something that needs to be changed in that aspect. I’m going to use my voice as much as possible to relay that aspect.”
Crutcher, 40, was shot Sept. 16. Police say the unarmed black man was shot by a white police officer, Betty Shelby, who has been charged with manslaughter. Tulsa is just a two-hour drive from Oklahoma City. Westbrook said the impact goes way beyond the incidents themselves.
“A lot of people don’t realize the families of all these young men,” Westbrook said. “Their mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles. I think it’s very important that we understand how the families feel throughout these situations.”
Westbrook said he plans to use his platform to help find solutions.
“Me, being an African American athlete and having a voice, I think it’s important that it’s important that I make a stand that something has to change,” he said. “I think that — obviously, I don’t have an answer. Nobody has an answer. If that was the case, we would have fixed it. But it’s important that we try to figure out what we can do to help improve the things that’s going on.”
Keith Lamont Scott, 43, was shot in Charlotte on Tuesday by a police officer. Both men are black. Thunder player Anthony Morrow, who is from Charlotte, was shaken by the shooting in his hometown.
“Obviously, I’m sad, that being in my own personal city,” he said. “It’s a very unfortunate, sad situation. It’s a sad and unfortunate time that we’re in right now. It really hit home with me with it being Tulsa, then the next day, Charlotte. It’s just something that, we’ve got to continue to pray and try to find the right answer or medium, because right now, it’s kind of all or nothing. So I’m praying for my city and Tulsa and everywhere else.”
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has chosen not to stand during the national anthem, saying he wouldn’t show pride in the flag of a country “that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Earlier this week, NBA players received a memo from the league and the National Basketball Players Association saying both were working on finding substantive ways to “take meaningful action” and effect “`positive change.”
Neither Westbrook nor Morrow revealed whether they would stand for the anthem. Morrow said he has no issue if an athlete protests.
“If you’ve got a voice and you’ve got a stage and you feel like expressing yourself, I totally understand that,” he said.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti said Wednesday that, though he’d prefer the players stand, he respects their right to free speech.
“We want to learn how we can help them take the symbol (flag) and try to create platforms for action,” Presti said. “And I think that’s one of the great roles that any organization can play, especially here in Oklahoma City, which is great, given our relationship with the community.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP