A Weekend with the Busiest Man in New York City, All-Star MVP Russell Westbrook

Jared Zwerling@JaredZwerlingNBA Senior WriterFebruary 16, 2015

AP Images


That's how Russell Westbrook described his mindset on the court after Saturday's All-Star practice. It represented the usual short-answer responses he gives in basketball media settings—and that's just what he did Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. He broke the All-Star Game record for most points in a half—27 points in only 11 first-half minutes—and went on to be named MVP after scoring 41 points, finishing just one shy of Wilt Chamberlain's all-time record.

For Westbrook, the All-Star Game wasn't the only thing he "killed" this past weekend. He was an off-the-court beast, conquering the city's Fashion Week with five of his own events alone. And he fit all of those into a packed schedule of other personal and league obligations, making him arguably the busiest man of All-Star Weekend.

Bleacher Report went along for most of the ride, capturing a rare and revealing look into the world of Westbrook, a man of few words in a basketball environment but much more than that outside of that setting.

"It's totally different," Westbrook says. "People that don't really know me, they only see me on the court and see that I'm angry, I'm emotional. But that's the type of guy I am when I play basketball. When it comes to business and off the court, that's just the person I am regularly."

It's Thursday around 6:30 p.m., in a second-floor ballroom at the W Hotel in Union Square, when Westbrook joins staffers from The Wall Street Journal and around 100 of its subscribers for a private discussion about his fashion interests. Westbrook—dressed in a white Skingraft jacket, a long gray coat from his fashion-line collaboration with Barneys, ripped, white Zara jeans and Del Toro shoes—is friendly, funny and at ease on stage in front of this non-basketball audience.

"The Russell Westbrook brand off the court is a big business. There is value, equity and back-end royalties for him," says Marc Beckman, the founder and CEO of DMA United and one of Westbrook's key business strategists. "He's bringing design elements and a vision in a way that is unlike other talent that we come across."

As a projection screen highlights some of Westbrook's fashion looks on his Instagram account, he remembers each outfit and the game—and this is a guy who never wears the same clothes twice.

"I wanted to go with, like, the L.A./NWA-type look," he says of his Christmas attire in 2013 against the Knicks.

"I want to create a fashion empire," Westbrook says. "I just want to create something that everybody can relate to," including women's wear one day to appease his mother's wishes.

Only a couple of years in the making, Westbrook already has an eyewear company called Westbrook Frames, he's a brand ambassador for Zenith watches, he has his own line of Kings & Jaxs boxer briefs, and he is the first athlete to collaborate on a collection with Barneys. (He has a similar big-scale partnership with another brand coming next year.) And this past week, he became the newest creative director for True Religion.

Westbrook concludes the event by taking questions—and one interaction with a young boy and his mother shows an unusual storytelling side to Westbrook.

Boy: "Hi, Russell. Does your dirty look, like the one you do in games, affect your fashion trend [laughs and claps from the entire audience]?"

Westbrook: "It's funny you say that. The last time we played the Knicks, I invited out a lot of fashion editors—a lot of people from Barneys and different people like that—to come and enjoy watching me play. And I warned them before the game that this is going to be a different Russell than what you see in fashion. So they got an opportunity to see those faces that you're talking about, seeing me act crazy."

Boy's mother: "Now I know where my son gets his looks from [laughs and claps once again from the audience]."

Around 7:30 p.m., it's on to Backbar at Toro restaurant, where Women's Wear Daily and Samsung are hosting a private dinner for Westbrook, who was named the journal's most fashionable NBA player entering the season. I arrive before Westbrook, who is traveling around All-Star Weekend in a two-car motorcade, usually featuring an Escalade and Suburban, that includes his fiance, Nina Earl, his agent Thad Foucher and his assistant Erin Evans, and publicist Tammy Brook. And two bodyguards and at least one member of the Oklahoma City Thunder's PR staff.

The tapas dinner, surrounded by a tree-adorned nook with branches extending toward the ceiling, features a group of about 30 people from all walks of high fashion, including designers such as Rachel Roy, celebrity stylists such as Brad Goreski, DJs and socialites. Each place setting includes the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 for those to check out. This isn't a basketball crowd, and my table-mates, including co-founder John Targon of luxury line Baja East, have a lot of questions for me about Westbrook. I'm the only sportswriter at the dinner.

Westbrook sits with Earl in the back corner, next to twins Ariel and Shimon Ovadia, the designers of luxury men's clothing and accessories line Ovadia & Sons. Westbrook, in his typical fashion form, asks questions about how they started their brand.

"When I meet different fashion designers and go to different fashion shows, man, I'm in awe and just all ears," says Westbrook, who traveled to Paris last summer and visited multiple shows and stores. "I go there and listen and hear what they've got to say. Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley—people like that—are icons in fashion, and I'm just excited to constantly pick brains of people in fashion."

Many of the guests Westbrook has never met before, such as longtime WWD editor-in-chief Edward Nardoza, but he's gracious and engaged with each one of them.

The menu for Westbrook's private dinner.
The menu for Westbrook's private dinner.Courtesy of Samsung

"What I found most interesting was the contrast to his fierce playing style," Nardoza says. "He's the consummate gentleman, easy in his manner and very approachable. He's charming, along with his fiance, and completely comfortable talking basketball with a despondent Knicks fan or fashion with several designers who joined us for dinner. I learned that not only is he very serious about continuing to explore the fashion business, but he knows what he's talking about. It should take him a long way."

After dinner, at about 9:45 p.m., Westbrook is off to host a party at an event space in New York's NoHo neighborhood with JackThreads, a men's lifestyle brand, to celebrate their collaborative launch of his Westbrook Frames Silver Series collection. (Most of his fashion functions over the weekend are downtown, convenient to his hotel room at the Trump SoHo.)

A stunning sight awaits inside the entrance: The Aqualillies, a professional synchronized swimming dance company, perform in a pool within the space. Four floors above, Westbrook hangs out with a small group of friends and reporters. There's music by DJ Virgil Abloh, desserts by Cronut creator Dominique Ansel, sketched caricatures by Napkin Killa and a photo booth sponsored by Mountain Dew (one of Westbrook's endorsements), where partygoers can strike their most creative poses with a basketball.

"This weekend, I just want to be heard and want to get what I love to do besides basketball out there," Westbrook says. "I want to let people know that I'm serious about what I'm trying to do outside of basketball in the business."

The following day, Friday, around 11:30 a.m., Westbrook arrives for All-Star media availability, located at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel. This marks one of the few times of the year when every kind of question you can imagine gets thrown at a player.

"Russell, do you wish you guys ever wore tiny, little shorts?" His answer: "No."

"Who's the sexier Van Gundy, Stan or Jeff?" His answer: just shakes his head.

Then there's the influx of international media—this year, a record 534 members from 52 countries—who ask for acknowledgement of their fans.

"Please give us a message to Japanese fans." His response: "Hello, Japanese fans all over the world. Thank you for your support."

Compared to the previous night, Westbrook, wearing all Jordan Brand gear, including the Air Jordan 1 Fragment Design sneakers, is completely different. Many times, he looks down during questions and looks away while responding. His answers are short—usually one word or one to two sentences—similar to other basketball interviews he's done in the past. Smiles and long answers are sparse. A lot of "I don't knows." For some, he has the look of "Where have you been?" as he quickly shakes his head to disregard the question.

"He doesn't like to talk about basketball," his younger brother, Ray, 23, says. "We just talk about life, play video games."

While Westbrook says he respects basketball writers, he admits he finds it difficult to be detailed with them.

"It's usually tough to explain something to people that have never played the game at a high level," he says. "You can play high school, but it's not the same thing playing at a very high level."

But, as he told B/R, he hopes that writers try to get to know him better as a person and for his off-the-court pursuits.

"I think a lot of people don't know anything about me personally except perception," he says. "People that are watching TV, they see me, 'This guy's crazy.' But they don't really know me. I'm very open, I'm a jokester. I'm not a mean person. I like to have fun and enjoy life."

About 10 minutes into the media session, Westbrook starts to shake one of his legs, seemingly impatient with many of the same questions—getting-to-knows and general ones about his fashion. Repeating answers is not necessarily fun, and Westbrook maintains his "killer" basketball approach.

Answering why he's never been in the dunk contest, he says, "I just dunk on people in the game, that's it."

Westbrook also leaves reporters with another newsy soundbite that his first signature sneaker is dropping this June with Jordan Brand. In fact, the company's pop-up shop across the street from Barclays Center is one of his next stops, after making an NBA Cares visit at a Brooklyn school at 1 p.m. to teach kids about fitness and healthy eating.

Westbrook arrives around 2:30 p.m. at the Jordan Brand location, one of several across the city to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Air Jordan franchise. While longtime NYC personality Jay Corbin emcees, Westbrook is led through the space, notably to view a special glass enclosure with all of the Air Jordans in red alongside game-worn sneakers by Michael Jordan himself.

After Westbrook has a meet-and-greet with shop employees and Jordan Brand staff in the back lounge area, roped off from customers. He leaves around 3:15 p.m., quickly escorted into his awaiting caravan without stopping for fans. While he has another 15 minutes on the docket, his team wants to beat some of the city's extra traffic, caused by All-Star Weekend, to make it on time for the players-association meeting.

"It's been crazy," Ray says at the shop. "I was actually feeling bad for him for a minute because he was doing so much. I didn't think he was going to get a break, but it's all stuff that he likes to do—basketball and fashion. So it's kind of fun. He's a great big brother to me. I've learned a lot from him; he learns a lot from me."

B/R catches up with Westbrook around 7:30 p.m. at the Gramercy Park Hotel, for a Hennessy V.S event to celebrate the second iteration of his Russell Westbrook XO Barneys New York collection. As he walks through the hotel's terrace on the 18th floor, one video camera follows his every move while he's introduced to different people.

Westbrook, who wears a custom-made fur coat by Jhoanna Alba, an Ann Demeulemeester shirt, Waldo pants and his own signature Jordan Brand sneakers, mingles with designers Vashtie and Marcelo Burlon, TV personalities Angela Simmons and Julissa Bermudez and rap artist Stalley.

"It's truly amazing to me to sit back and see guys that have been in fashion for years respect what I do and how I do it," Westbrook says. "I have such a great time coming to New York City, man. It's so cold, but I love it."

Westbrook is then off to the Air Jordan 30th anniversary private party down on Wall Street, where Michael Jordan will host; Derek Jeter, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and LaMarcus Aldridge will attend; and Prince and Ariana Grande will perform.

Westbrook's final business event takes him back to Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon at around 1:30 p.m. to the True Religion store, right next to the Jordan Brand pop-up shop. As the brand's newest creative director, Westbrook is greeted inside by 10-foot-high portraits of himself in different outfits and a digital video board playing his campaign.

After Westbrook poses for pictures, he reflects on how far he's come in life and fashion, first looking up to his mother, Shannon, for how "crazy and different" she dressed. He's even surprised himself with the impact he's had outside of Oklahoma City.

"Honestly, man, I never even thought I would make it to the NBA and I'm just excited to be able to have that as my platform," says Westbrook, while taking out a mint from his pocket. "Once I figured out what I really love to do—fashion—I went with it and ran with it. My first high-fashion item I bought was from Gucci. I bought some shoes and a watch and a button-up. I thought I was killing the game at the time.

"Now it's a blessing, man, to be able to see my brand in different parts of the world and different stores. A lot of people think in small markets, you can't do things, but I think you can do anything you put your mind to. If you really want to put the work in, I think I do a good job in the summertime meeting people and reaching out and doing different things and putting myself in a position to do things like this."

Whenever Westbrook posts photos on Instagram, he uses three common hashtags: #whynot #fashionking and #donthateonthebrodie. They all represent, especially "brodie" in the last one meaning "one of the flyest guys around," the unique path he's on.

While observing Westbrook in the last few minutes that I'm around him at the True Religion store, he picks out about a half a dozen items and I ask him for a recommendation for myself. He takes a quick glance at my clothes and walks me over to the jacket area. "I'd go with the denim," he says. A bold choice for me, but that's Westbrook.

As Westbrook regroups with Earl, I introduce myself to her for the first time. I ask her how she's enjoying the weekend and she says, looking a bit tired but friendly, "I need some coffee." But just like that, one of Westbrook's security guards swoops in and preps him on his next move.

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.


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