Sam Anderson of the New York Times Magazine reports on Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard and the best player in the NBA. What’s extraordinary about this piece isn’t just Anderson’s insight (he wrote about the Thunder for the NYTM in 2012), or how his vivid descriptions of the utter ferocity and skill with which Westbrook plays—it’s that Anderson was likely allowed 10 or so minutes to spend actually interviewing Westbrook, a famously taciturn subject. The piece is a marvel of observational reporting.
With just under three minutes left and the [Oklahoma City] Thunder trailing by 3 points, [Russell] Westbrook dribbled hard at the basket and, without any apparent shadow of self-doubt, stopped to rise for a pull-up jumper — precisely the shot I had watched him clank so many times before the game. Now, however, he made it, and then with around a minute left he did it again, giving the Thunder the lead, and in the end, as the crowd gurgled on its own disappointment, the Thunder won by 6 points. Westbrook’s final stat line was dangerously overstuffed: 32 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists. He should probably have had closer to 15 assists, but that stat depends largely on the skill of the players around you, and with this group, nine seemed like a minor miracle.
After the game, Westbrook sat at his locker wearing only a towel, with the veins bulging out of his legs so hard he looked like a map of the human circulatory system. (Joe Sharpe, the Thunder’s head trainer, told me that Westbrook could probably be a bodybuilder if he wanted to.) Slowly, while the media watched in silence, Westbrook started getting dressed. He put on underwear covered with the words “Why Not?” — Westbrook’s personal slogan, which he invokes to justify everything from his fashion choices to his shot selection. (As he tweeted once, apropos of nothing: “WHYNOT?!!! #whynot #whynot”) He pulled on a pair of skinny black jeans, ripped at the knees, then a bright yellow sweatshirt that said, on the front, “Paranormal: Out of the Ordinary.” Over this he put on a denim jacket.
It was, I thought, an interesting outfit.
But there was one more piece, and it was the coup de grâce: Over his jeans, Westbrook pulled on a kilt.
He rubbed some Vaseline on his face and turned to face the media for an official round of questions. As usual, he spoke to the reporters without ever looking at them. It was as if he were being interviewed by the locker-room door, with which he maintained fierce eye contact, with occasional follow-up questions from the ceiling tiles or the carpet.
Why are you wearing a kilt? someone asked.
“Why not?” Westbrook said.
And so began life after Kevin Durant.