The vast majority of interactions between athletes and media members are filled with disdain. Even when questions and answers take on the most innocuous forms possible, there are often undercurrents of mutual condescension between those who ask and those who respond. A press conference filled with utterances of "talk about" and "just played hard" isn't exactly kind just because it's professional. Both parties are playing roles, not interacting in any meaningful way.
Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook has never shown much interest in that sort of post-game professionalism. The three-time All-Star left a post-game scrum in disdain two seasons ago, answered every question with the same answer after an ejection earlier this season, and gave another super-short media availability just this past Monday. It is officially a trend for him to disregard questions from the media.
In some ways, then, Westbrook's time with reporters after Friday's impressive 127-115 win over the NBA-best Golden State Warriors is not especially new. It did, however, reach new levels of awkwardness and discomfort. Take a look:
The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater posted the full transcript to Twitter:
Russell Westbrook's entire postgame presser tonight. I think he liked their execution: pic.twitter.com/kNqupErQAC
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) January 17, 2015
The most awkward part of the interaction — which is really saying something — is absolutely when Westbrook tells columnist Berry Trammel of The Oklahoman that he flat-out doesn't like him. As noted by Seth Rosenthal of SB Nation, Trammel has a history of calling out the notoriously (and often unfairly) divisive Westbrook and works at the newspaper responsible for the bizarre "Mr. Unreliable" criticism levied at Kevin Durant when the Thunder were on the brink of elimination at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of last spring's playoffs. They later went on to win that series.
Yet that backstory doesn't necessarily explain this interaction. Trammel wrote a column earlier Friday that stated the Thunder aren't very good, but it was not especially vicious even if it would seem an imprudent dismissal of a team that could still win the West with the right playoff matchups. In fact, Westbrook would figure to have been in a good mood after a dominant triple-double and all-time-great highlight in what was probably his team's best win of the season so far. Given the circumstances and recent history, it's fair to assume that Westbrook has just decided he no longer wants to help out the media with usable answers to questions and will call out anyone who suggests that he's doing exactly that.
Athletes have done this enough times in the past that we shouldn't consider it the most shocking thing ever. Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has gone from not talking to media at all to turning his required meetings into short sessions entirely lacking worth. Less recently, guys like Rasheed Wallace have deliberately avoid answering questions in similar fashion, albeit often to protect their own bank accounts. Even those athletes who have plenty of time for the media can at least understand why some might not have much interest in fulfilling these duties. It's not as if Westbrook is alone here.
The difference is that we're not exactly sure why he's doing any of this. It's possible that he has longstanding beefs with the particular media members assigned to cover the Thunder, or that he hates talking to media altogether, or that he's just trying to lay bare the aforementioned condescension at the heart of most athlete-media interactions. Friday's scrum doesn't look like the product of someone with a clear opinion on his role as an athlete who talks to media. While Lynch acted and continues to act in similar ways to Westbrook, he at least started with not talking at all, which would seem to say he hates this part of the job — there is a consistency of purpose to his actions. By contrast, the video of Westbrook presents him as someone who has little time for the specific people in front of him, let alone the capacity to humor them. To put it another way, he comes across as a jerk.
However, that impression is not necessarily the full story, and we would be wise to consider Westbrook's point of view before we saddle him with a problem-child label. If his actions appear difficult and confusing, it might be because regular appraisals as the devil to Durant's angel have convinced him that he can't win with the media. Then again, that point likely assumes too much about his approach when the man himself has offered little in the way of explanation.
For now, what we know is that Westbrook is not giving media much to work from and shows little interest in explaining himself. Perhaps he never will, even with more comfortable opportunities to do so. If he doesn't, there may eventually come a time at which giving him the benefit of the doubt isn't worth it. Either way, he'll still be a basketball player who does all this:
It should be enough to sustain our interest.
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