Inside the style of Russell Westbrook

OKLAHOMA CITY — Ask Russell Westbrook what he thinks of people who are critical of his game and he’ll answer the same every time.
He doesn’t care.
Ask Russell Westbrook what he thinks of others’ opinions of his fashion sense and he’ll answer the same every time.
He doesn’t care about that, either.
Westbrook’s game is a violent mix of speed and size, a matchup nightmare for opposing NBA defenses. His clothing choices are similar. No predictability and a matching nightmare.
Seems both are getting noticed quite a bit.
Not that Westbrook cares. It wouldn’t be his style, after all.
Named to GQ Magazine’s 25 most stylish men of the year last week, Westbrook was less than interested in talking about it and could barely be bothered to give away even the tiniest of tips or hints on what might be hot and not in his spring wardrobe.
“Nope,” said Westbrook on whether being named to the GQ list that also included Ryan Gosling, Jay-Z and Daniel Craig — as well as NBA players Dwyane Wade and Tyson Chandler — might encourage the Oklahoma City Thunder guard to step up his fashion game.
“I’ll just dress like I usually do and go from there.”
How he usually dresses goes something like the way he usually plays: Passion alongside a brooding personality, forsaking the belief that a sunny disposition never goes out of style. All of that, complemented by enough attitude for a Paris runway.
It works on the court. He’s averaging 21.5 points and 8.7 assists. And it works after games, too, as he usually dresses in front of his locker and in front of a crowd which generally points, gawks and guesses to what degree of California Cool Westbrook will be.
Some call it layering, but on top of the ego and the charisma is a Geek Chic look. Buttoned-up-to-the-collar golf shirts worn a size too small, or a shirt where hundreds of fake leopards met their death to provide the perfect look, accessorized of course by glasses with no lenses.
“I pay attention to Russ,” his coach Scott Brooks said. “But I can’t believe he’s in the top 25. Although, I will say, he’s good looking with a great body. He can wear anything and he’s going to look good in it.”
Well, certainly Brooks can’t be considered the best barometer, as his wardrobe is dominated by suits that range from amber to khaki, in what can only be considered a wild celebration of brown. But Brooks did say he was impressed by Westbrook’s ability to obviously not care anything about how he’s seen.
“I call it ‘Russell,'” Brooks said of the style. “And only he can pull it off.”
Which is exactly like he plays. A point guard in name only, he’s been fighting stereotypes and haters for years. Part of it, due to the fact it never looks like he’s having fun. He never smiles, only scowls and that makes him easier to pick apart than an old suit, but in the right situation it dazzles.
That’s what GQ recognized after Westbrook attended “Fashion Week” during the fall in New York City, likely because of Westbrook’s postgame podium attire he featured during the Thunder’s run to the NBA Finals a season ago. Despite outcomes both positive and negative on the court, Westbrook brought his trend and variety to the microphone.
“He’s fly,” said teammate and fashion connoisseur Kevin Durant, who shared the stage with Westbrook after each game. “I always have a competition with him. I see what he’s wearing when he comes to the locker room and most of the time he out-dresses me. I gotta keep putting it together.”
Durant makes fun, but there’s no question he cares about what he’s putting on. Westbrook will argue he doesn’t, instead defiantly disclosing the only person he ever tries to impress — presumably with his wardrobe — is his mother. Hard to tell what’s the truth with Westbrook. He doesn’t make eye contact during conversations and rarely shows anything but contempt for any line of questioning, either serious or light.
But one thing is certain: Guys who are only trying to look good for their mom rarely show up at Fashion Week, alongside celebrities, in an event dripping with puffery and lit by a synthetic spotlight. It would be like hitting up a 5-star restaurant and then saying you don’t care how your steak is cooked.
Yet, here’s Westbrook, first hitting the red carpet and then sitting in front of his locker minimizing his interest in his look. Don’t be fooled. He might look mad and act annoyed, but he’s concerned.
“It’s a far cry from what it used to be,” said Craig Sager, an NBA sideline reporter for TNT and TBS, on how stars are dressing. “Russell is obviously comfortable in what he does. I always look forward to seeing what he’s wearing. These guys want to make sure they are being seen.”
Sager would know. For years, he’s been on the crushed-velvet hem of what not to wear. Sager’s developed a following for his fashion as much as his for his NBA knowledge. In Oklahoma City last week for a game, he was sporting a green sport coat to go alongside green, eel-skin shoes. Sager cares what he looks like. He’s suggesting Westbrook does, too.
“I like that he’s innovative and he has his personal taste and fashion,” Sager said. “He’s obviously comfortable in what he does.”
There’s no doubt Westbrook is comfortable, but that doesn’t mean he’s interested in talking about it.
“Maybe a few new shirts, I’m not sure yet,” is all he could be hassled to reveal about his upcoming appearance.
Nothing is for sure, but maybe 2013 is the year Westbrook accessorizes with a smile.