Russell Westbrook says he can no longer tolerate ‘Westbrick’ nickname

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Russell Westbrook‘s wife – Nina Westbrook – called out Skip Bayless for blocking her on Twitter, which she saw his attempt to erase her from his reality so he’d feel better about frequently criticizing the Lakers guard. It was a fair criticism – except Bayless hadn’t actually blocked her, as she later acknowledged.

Still, Nina Westbrook used that as a jumping-off point into her other issues about how her husband and her family are being treated amid his difficult season:

After the Lakers’ loss to the Spurs last night, Russell Westbrook elaborated.

Spectrum SportsNet:

Westbrook

I a hundred percent stand behind my wife and how she’s feeling, because it’s not just about this year. Right now, she’s reached a point, and my family has reached a point, to where it’s really weighing on them. And it’s very unfortunate just for me personally because it’s just a game. This is just a game. This is not end-all, be-all. And when it comes to basketball I don’t mind the criticism of missing and making shots. But the moment it becomes where my name is getting shamed, it becomes an issue. I’ve kind of let it go in the past just because it never really bothered me, but it really kind of hit me the other day, honestly. Me and my wife was at teacher-parent conference for my son, and the teacher told me, she’s like, “Noah, he’s so proud of his last name. He writes it everywhere. He writes it on everything. He tells everybody, he walks around and says, “I’m Westbrook. Westbrook, that’s my last name.” And I kind of sat there in shock. And it hit me, like damn, I can no longer allow people – for example,  Westbrick, to me, is now shaming. It’s like shaming my name. It’s my legacy for my kids. It’s a name that means more, not just to me, but to my wife, my mom, my dad are he ones that kind of paved the way for me. And that’s just one example. I mean, that kind of hit myself and my wife in a place where it’s not great, man. And I think a lot of times I let it slide, but it’s now time to put a stop to that and put it on notice there is a difference, and we need to make sure it’s understood. And every time I do hear it now, I will make sure that I address it and make sure that I nip that in the bud.

It’s very unfortunate. It’s been like this for my entire career. I’ve been blessed and super thankful for the ones around me and the ones that support me, but it’s really the shaming of my name, the shaming of my character, the shaming of who I am as a person is, to me, is not warranted. I haven’t done anything to anybody. I haven’t hurt anyone. I haven’t done anything but play basketball a way that people may not like. And this is just a game. This is just a game. This is not my entire life, and I think that is the ultimate thing that’s been for me. And I don’t like to harp on it. I just kind of want it out there. But once it starts to affect my family, my wife – even today, my mom said something about it today. And it affects them even going to games. I don’t even want to bring my kids to the game, because I don’t want them to hear people calling their dad nicknames and other names for no reason because he’s playing the game that he loves. And it’s gotten so bad where my family don’t even want to home games, to any games because of not just the media across the globe using platforms constantly shame, shame, shame me. And it’s just super unfortunate, man. And it’s super upsetting to me, and I’m at a point to where I’m going la continue to address it. It’s just unfortunate.

Harassing Westbrook’s family, death threats, anything like that is completely over the line. It’s a shame Westbrook has faced such inappropriate behavior, and it shouldn’t be tolerated.

But getting so upset about the “Westbrick” nickname?

Yeah, it’s name-calling. No, it’s not kind.

But are name-calling and light mocking now completely out-of-bounds in professional sports? Remember, we’re not that far removed from Westbrook intimating Kevin Durant was a cupcake for changing teams as a free agent.

When people call Westbrook “Westbrick” they are generally referring only to him. Could people use that to mock his family? Of course. Those people are wrong. Family should be off-limits. But that doesn’t mean a fairly benign and fitting* nickname should be treated like a slur.

*Westbrook is shooting just 28% on 3-pointers this season.

It’s sad Westbrook no longer feels comfortable bringing his children to games. During this difficult season, he has talked about the joy of playing in his native Los Angeles, near family.

Westbrook has failed to adjust his game according to his limitations and surroundings. Through his own stubbornness, he has been a bigger detriment to the Lakers than necessary.

Both things can be true simultaneously.

It’s overly simplistic for Westbrook to characterize basketball as just a game. Yes, that’s important perspective. But fans’ passions drive Westbrook’s $44,211,146 salary. He earns that much money only because so many people are intensely interested in basketball. Of course, that doesn’t give fans the right to say and do whatever the want. But there are tradeoffs to being a public figure, especially one in the highly competitive environment of professional sports – let alone on the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers.

Westbrook has a $47,063,478 player option for next season. He could decline that, go somewhere else he feels more comfortable or even step away.

Of course, it’s not “just a game.” It’s his livelihood. Sacrificing so much money would be an extreme reaction to teasing.

The Westbrooks are free to give their opinions and try to shape the discourse. There’s value in them opening up about how they’re experiencing the criticism. As people view professional athletes like characters in a drama (or, in this case, maybe tragedy), it can be easy to forget they’re real people.

But that doesn’t mean fans and commentators must acquiesce and suddenly stop calling him “Westbrick.”