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Russell Westbrook is in his element: Eight racks of designer clothes before him, four rows of shoes lining the floor, Kendrick Lamar thumping through the speakers. Westbrook stands in the middle of this studio in Oklahoma City eating peanuts, outfits laid out around him for a photo shoot -- a life-size puzzle with neon pants and puffy jackets as the pieces. He's been in the zone for 20 minutes or so when his wife, Nina, walks in behind him carrying their 7-month-old son, Noah, in a BabyBjörn. Westbrook drops the shirt he had in his hands -- literally drops it on the floor -- and skips over to them. As the new father is quickly discovering, when it comes to quality time with his son, everything else is secondary.
We all know that proud papas like nothing more than talking about their kids, so as Westbrook prepared to play his first Christmas Day game with a baby at home, ESPN sat down with the Thunder star to talk fatherhood, family and a few more of his favorite things.
ESPN: Has becoming a daddy changed you?
Russell Westbrook: I think the moment we knew we were having Noah was the moment it changed me. For the good, obviously. You start to think about the things that best benefit him. Everything in life revolves around him.
Do you look at your job differently now that you're a dad? Are some things less important, more important?
Yeah, you know what, it's a balance. I like to get to the gym early. I get here first and work on my game. But Noah wakes up really early, and I might have been gone on the road for six or seven days, and he hasn't seen me in a while. Then I'm staying at home. Which is OK, because that's more important to me than anything. That's just something I've had to get used to.
You're a pretty big routine guy. Has all this been hard?
For me, family's the most important thing. So regardless of if anybody needs anything, or anything happens, if something's going on in my family, I always put that first.
Has anything surprised you about being a dad?
The FOMO [fear of missing out] is a big thing for me. I never used to have that problem, but I've got it now. This season we were on the road a lot early. We'd go on a three-game road trip and then come back, then go another five or six games. My wife does a great job of constantly keeping me updated. But that's my biggest thing -- "Ah, I'm missing something." That's why when I get home I'm all, "Noah, let's do whatever."
Who dresses Noah? I remember when my son was born, I was super into dressing him and still am. Do you and Nina have to fight over who gets to dress him?
Right now, he's growing at a rapid pace -- he's in one outfit, and then next week he's like, "Oh, I can't fit into that anymore." In a couple of months, once he starts walking, it's over.
That's your time.
It's over. I already told my wife, "This is my time to shine." Right now, you got the cute little onesies, but all the stuff I have for him is, like, 12 to 18 months, 18 to 24 months. I want to swag him out.
Do you see any of your personality in him?
Easy. He don't stop moving. He wants to play, he wants to move, he wants to roll. He's just nonstop moving. I noticed it when he was about 4 months. He was getting in the routine of taking naps, and he started taking 10-minute naps. And boom -- he was re-energized. He'd been up all day, and then it would be, like, 10 minutes and he'd get back up. I was, "Dude, what is wrong with this kid?" But I don't take naps. I just push through it and keep going and going. So my wife was like, "Well, where do you think he gets that from?" And it's like, "You've got a valid point."
Noah Westbrook as a 4-year-old already sounds terrifying.
[Laughs] For everybody.
Do you want him to be like you?
You know, I want him to be just like, himself. Obviously right now he don't know what I do; he just knows I'm his dad. And I'd rather him have it that way. I think that's the most important thing for him, to be able to have his father, and for him to be able to whatever it is that he wants and loves to do.
In what ways are you like your dad?
S---. A lot. A lot of things. My dad, he taught me so much. Just about being a man, and obviously being a father as well; my attention to detail. He gets that regimen because now he golfs every day. Being consistent, working out and working at your craft -- that's something I get from him. Obviously a lot of other traits too, attitude, competitiveness.
Do you play golf, too?
No. Not yet.
Would you ever play golf?
I will. Because I'm gonna play with him. Last summer I was supposed to do it, but obviously we had the baby. So next summer is when I'm going to try and start going to the range with him.
What kind of golfer would Russell Westbrook be? Because golf is hard and super frustrating, I don't know if you know this.
I know. I've done a few things, Top Golf and stuff, and guys are like, 'Oh, it's not bad.' So I think I've got a future somewhere in golf, but I don't know.
How are you going to feel about those two-foot putts that lip out?
I'm gonna be Happy Gilmore. I'm gonna be Happy Gilmore and break it over my knee.
Important basketball question: How has your newfound dad strength been an advantage this season? Or has it kicked in yet you think?
You know what, I don't know if it has...
It looked to me like you came into training camp a little bigger, though.
Yeah, I definitely did. That was either dad strength or me being on my ass, one of the two. But I don't know if it's fully kicked in yet. My son only goes to a few games, but I feel like when he comes, I get excited that he's there. Although he was asleep yesterday.
The one guy that can sleep while you play basketball.
Yeah, right? He's knocked out. 'This is nap time for me.'
Do you see yourself as a basketball player who's a dad, or a dad who's a basketball player?
I've never thought about it because I've always put my family first -- that's just what I naturally do. Before I had my son, I was putting my wife, my brother, my mom, my dad first, you see what I'm saying? Obviously, this is a great job, it's a blessing, but family is what keeps me going. So to answer your question: father and then basketball. That's just how I think.
You're a superhero to a lot of kids. They've got your jersey on, some try to dress like you, they look up to you. But as your son gets older, how do you think you'll balance that?
For me, I think it's more important to be a father to him rather than for him to look at me as a superhero for what I do. My dad's a superhero, but not because he plays basketball but because he's the best dad in the world. That's the thing I want to accomplish.
What does the word "legacy" mean to you? Is it what you accomplished on the basketball court or --
I think in life, I think there's so many great things you can do in the world to help other people, to impact different communities, to impact the world through basketball. This is a great platform, and I can use it to do other things, whether it's through education or Christmas or Thanksgiving, whatever it is.
Do you like being kind of a mysterious figure or do wish people had a better idea of what you're really like?
Yes and no. I want half and half. I only say that because I'm a private person, I don't like everybody in my business. But I also don't want people to just see me on the court and believe that's who I am. That's what happens to me all the time. So they think, 'Oh, Russell's an a-hole -- I don't know him but he looks like an a-hole.' Right? First, I'm not. People that know me, they'd look at you like you were crazy. Like, 'He's a what?' But the problem is, when people see me here, the stuff people hear on TV just from basketball, that's the only part that I sometimes try to give people. That's why social media, I think, is great for me. People get a chance to see what I do just on a normal basis, because they only see me on a basketball court.
You created your own clothing line with Honor The Gift. Why the name, and what are you trying to do with it?
Obviously fashion is something I love and do and embrace. Going back this past year and half, just trying to figure out the name, and I came up with Honor The Gift. Obviously 'Why Not?' is my motto but I believe that it all relates back. Because I believe that everybody's been given a gift, regardless of what it is. I think everybody in the world has a gift. It's something that's not just a regular name, but something to relate to, because I think it's important.
You mentioned 'Why Not?' and that being the motto you live by and how it's become kind of an inspirational rallying cry. I've seen you tweeting it and saying it for year, but I don't know the origin of it. Where'd it come from?
It started off back in high school, my friends and I were just doing a lot of dumb stuff -- throwing each other's backpacks, or not going to class. So for months, every day we'd say that -- 'Why not?' It would be some dumb s--- like, 'let's run in the middle of the street' -- 'why not?' 'Let's go over here' -- 'why not?' 'Let's go out' -- 'why not?' We all played basketball together and before the game we'd be like, 'Pssh, why not? Let's hoop. Who cares?'
Then me and my real close friend thought, this is something that we can use -- being kids growing up in the inner city, giving other kids a sense of confidence, a sense of swagger. I didn't think I'd be playing in the NBA at the time, but just being able to give the next person, your brother, your friend, whoever it is, some confidence. Why not? Who told you you can't? That's how it started and now I'm using the mantra to keep impacting people across the world.
Is that where the fashion came from, like, 'Why not wear this?'
That's a part of it, and my mom. My mom's a huge part of that. Because when I was younger, she always made sure I had all the new stuff, at least whatever we could afford. Made sure I was fresh. She always told me to wear what you feel, wear what you want -- who cares? Who cares what other people think? I never forgot that. And obviously with my mindset, I was like, 'yeah, why not, who cares?' This is a way I can relate to people, me being myself. That's the best thing anybody can do.
We're getting close to the holidays -- what kinds of traditions did you have growing up?
We just always got up really early, me and my brother -- 5, 6 o'clock, going to wake our parents up. We never used to go in the living room until the last possible moment because we didn't want to see what we had. Never left our room Christmas Eve. That was the main tradition
It's Noah's first Christmas. Have you thought about the logistics of this?
The logistics are always up to him. That's what I've realized. As he gets older, it'll change, but him being 7 months, the logistics are really up to him. Sometimes he wants to nap with me, sometimes he may want to play. I'm gonna take his lead.
He'll get a present or two, I assume.
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah, maybe a few. Maybe a few.
I would assume you enjoy shopping for Christmas presents.
I like giving multiple gifts. I feel like, "OK, I've been put in this position, I've been blessed to be able to give and do and help other people." Sometimes I give unnecessarily -- instead of giving two pairs of shoes, I might give five. My wife's like, "Uh ..." But that's just how I am.
What's the inside of your closet look like, because you say you're really organized, but with all these clothes...
A s---show. At the moment.
But since you're only wearing any item of clothing once, is it full of clothes, is it just the things for that week, how's that work?
It's like piles: stuff I wore that I'm giving away, pile. Stuff that goes to Goodwill, pile. Stuff that's going to the cleaners, pile. Jeans I may fold back up and put 'em back up. There's new clothes I have, shoes, so it's a bit of a s---show at the moment. We'll be good in about a week.
You know someone told me recently that the inside of your closet is a good look at what's going on in your life. When someone comes over you're going to clean up your living room, do your dishes, clean the guest bathroom. But you're just gonna throw everything in the closet and close the door.
Well [nodding], one thing about that, I can say that's actually true. My closest now is actually getting better, which means [motions out to the court in front of us], things are getting better. [Laughs] Before, at first, there was s--- all over the place, but that's a good illustration. I'm gonna use that, actually.
Wardrobe styling by Jason Rembert/The Wall Group. Prop Styling by Julie Whitmire/Renee Rhyner and Co. Grooming by Sharon Tabb.