Though Westbrook is now healthy after a strained quad, he says he didn’t want to play at all without further action on social justice.Russell Westbrook didn’t want to play without social justice action — Rockets Wire
After weeks of dealing with a strained right quad, All-Star guard Russell Westbrook is finally healthy and ready to return to the Houston Rockets for Saturday’s Game 5 of their playoff series versus Oklahoma City.
But without the NBA’s latest actions related to social justice, he says he wouldn’t be on the court at all — even when healthy.
“I’m excited to play. But I’m more excited that we’re playing for a cause, that we’re in agreeance to make sure that there’s action,” said the 31-year-old Westbrook, who spoke at Friday’s team practice.
It was the first media availability for the former MVP and nine-time NBA All-Star since an Aug. 12 MRI revealed his quad strain. “If there wasn’t any agreement, there’s no action moving towards some of the things that we talked about as players… me personally, I wouldn’t be playing,” he said.
Earlier Friday, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) jointly issued a statement with action items to be taken to further support social justice and racial equality. One of those — converting arenas to voting sites for the 2020 U.S. presidential election — has already been confirmed by the Rockets to take place in Houston.
Joint NBA and NBPA statement: pic.twitter.com/EFp6fG9oZs
— NBA (@NBA) August 28, 2020
Following the recent police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man in Wisconsin, NBA players effectively went on strike Wednesday in a bid to push the league and its owners to further assist them on issues related to social justice. As Westbrook sees things, it clearly worked.
“I think we all needed a pause,” Westbrook said Friday. “Emotionally, physically, mentally. I think the pause was for a greater cause, for all the social issues in our world today. Based on recent police killings and shootings, it allowed us to use our platform.”
Westbrook noted that the hiatus quickly extended to other U.S. professional sports leagues including the WNBA, MLB, and NHL.
“Once the NBA stopped, everything else [in sports] stopped,” Westbrook said. “Our voices were heard. That shows the power. … We see the impact, we see the change that is happening.”
Russell Westbrook on the NBA’s hiatus:
“I think we all needed a pause. Emotionally, physically, mentally. I think the pause was for a greater cause, for all the social issues in our world today. Based on recent police killings and shootings, it allowed us to use our platform.”
— Ben DuBose (@BenDuBose) August 28, 2020
No NBA playoff games were held on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, and the initial postponed games from the first day (including Game 5 of the first-round series between the Rockets and Thunder) will finally be played on Saturday. That game will serve as Westbrook’s 2020 playoff debut.
But Westbrook wasn’t in the mood to talk much basketball on Friday. He wanted to keep the focus of his discussion to the bigger issues at hand, as well as the progress that he believes is being made.
“It’s an unbelievable blessing,” Westbrook said of this week’s protest events. “God has put me in this position for a reason. Not just to play basketball, but to use my platform to help other people.”
#KHOU11 @russwest44 talks about the protest this week by #NBA players. “It’s an unbelievable blessing. God has put me in this position for a reason. Not just to play basketball but to use my platform to help other people.” pic.twitter.com/vH80jLQxU2
— Matt Musil (@KHOUSportsMatt) August 28, 2020
Westbrook became personally involved with the “Black Lives Matter” movement after the death of George Floyd in late May, even speaking in person at a protest near his hometown of Los Angeles. With the movement on the minds of NBA players more than ever after the Blake shooting, Westbrook says he’s determined to use his immense platform to continue pushing for change in the weeks and months ahead.
“I watched the video,” Westbrook said. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s something you can’t explain, and it’s something that’s just not right. … It hits home for many reasons. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. I have family and friends that have been subject to police brutality. I’ve been privy to it all. … I wanted to find a way to help and make change.”
“What does your legacy mean? Is it just about basketball? I don’t think mine is about basketball. I believe mine is about giving back.” @russwest44 discusses using his platform to affect social change. pic.twitter.com/NbAttx1ISJ
— NBA TV (@NBATV) August 28, 2020
Even above his extremely long list of NBA accomplishments, that change is what Westbrook wants to be most remembered for.
“I’ve always thought about legacy,” Westbrook said. “What does your legacy mean? Is it just about basketball? I don’t think mine is about basketball. I believe mine is about giving back, and impacting and inspiring, and finding ways to be able to do what’s right.”
“Our Black communities have been hurting for many years,” he said. “I feel like it’s my duty to make sure that our Black people and underserved communities are heard, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that happens. I’m making sure that I’m part of history, in a positive way. Whether it’s five years, 10 years, 20 years down the line, I can look back and say ‘I was a part of that. I put my best foot forward.’”
The complete video of Westbrook’s poignant commentary before Friday’s Rockets practice can be viewed below.