• Brian L. Barefield

For Russell Westbrook, its more than just basketball

Russell Westbrook speaks to the media about social injustice and his return to the court

For a player like Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook, these are some very trying times we live in. With all the social injustices plaguing our country and the numerous amounts of unarmed civilians being shot and killed by law enforcement officials, the married father of three just wants our society to take a better look at what’s going on and help bring about change.

Westbrook, who is set to play in Game 5 of the NBA Playoffs on Saturday versus his former team the Oklahoma City Thunder after sitting out the first four games with a quad injury joined his teammates and other NBA players when they decided to sit-out the playoff games on Tuesday as a protest to another unarmed African American male shot by the police.

Jacob Blake of Wisconsin was shot in the back seven times by the Kenosha Police Department in Wisconsin. Video was released on social media that has sparked an outrage throughout the United States and sent a message to a league filled with African American males that “Enough is Enough,” according to mega-superstar LeBron James. The Milwaukee Bucks led the protest as they refused to take the floor in their Game 5 matchup with the Orlando Magic.

“I think we all needed a pause,” said Westbrook in his press conference via Zoom on Friday.

“Emotionally, physically, mentally. I think the pause was for a greater cause. Not just for basketball, but for all the social issues going on today.

“Based on recent police killings and shootings, it allowed us to be able to stop what we are doing and recognize how important the rest of the world is. Me being a black man and a part of the African American community, it is important for us to see how we (owners and players) can collectively come together and ensure we are doing the right thing.”

The former NBA MVP said he is all too familiar with what is going on in today’s society. He grew up in Los Angeles, California and has friends on both sides of the spectrum. He also is close friends with his current teammate, Thabo Sefolosha who has experienced police brutality firsthand. In April 2015 Sefolosha had his leg broken by NYPD officers who accused him of interfering with a police investigation outside a New York night club. He was found not guilty on all three misdemeanor charges by a Manhattan jury, but the physical and mental scars still remain. He was awarded a cash settlement and donated a majority of it to a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating public defenders.

“It hits home for many reasons,” Westbrook said when asked about how he is personally affected by these incidents. “I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and I have friends and family that have been subjected to police brutality and I have friends that are cops as well. So, I have been privy to it all since I was young, and my parents have taught me to always find ways to use your platform to find ways to help.

“This year has been crazy. We have a pandemic going on where people are losing their lives everyday and families are struggling. It is so much going on at one time that we needed a break to think about the things we needed to do. It’s another step to actually doing it and that’s what I am all about, ACTION!”

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