When Russell Westbrook and his best friend, Khelcey Barrs III, made Leuzinger High School’s varsity team in their freshman year, Russell was only 5-foot-8 and 140 lbs., with huge hands and feet that he hadn’t grown into. Then in his junior year, Westbrook sprouted.
“My body caught up with me,” he says with a laugh. “I grew into my body, and I had a little bit of muscle.” The growth spurt also helped his style. “I was able to fit into stuff easier,” he says. “When you’re small and skinny, clothes look extra big on you.”
Back in those days, Westbrook was far from a clotheshorse. “I was wearing XXXXL T-shirts; I’m barely even a large these days,” he says. “I used to wear a lot of FUBU stuff, Ecko, Phat Farm.”
If you think about what other people say, then you have a problem. When it comes to dressing up, a lot of people are worried what others think.
You just gotta go with it.
Westbrook’s game improved dramatically in high school as well. His father shot with him at a nearby park late into the night. His younger brother Reynard ran with him on Manhattan Beach during the off-season. “Russell became more confident in himself and his game, and it made him, and our family, change our vision for his future,” says Russell Sr., a former airplane technician.
The younger Russell’s future changed forever in 2004 when Barrs died from an enlarged heart. His death affected Westbrook profoundly. The two had lived across the street from each other in Lawndale. After Barrs’ passing, Russell would go to his house to do his chores. He still wears a white bracelet marked “KB3” as a tribute to his friend.
“There’s not a day when I don’t think about what he could’ve done,” Westbrook says. “He was a good guy, my best friend, and he would’ve been a great player.” Westbrook’s gone on to greatness himself, but he takes Khelcey’s memory—and the knowledge that life is short—wherever he goes.
The day after the Thunder’s loss in L.A., Westbrook is back in Oklahoma City, at U.S. Grant High School on the city’s South Side. Inside, Thunder players have taken over the gym for a fitness clinic. While Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson run students through drills, Westbrook stands at a nutrition station, talking about healthy eating habits and confessing one of his vices. “I have a candy problem,” he admits. He finds Payday bars particularly tempting.
He’s in a noticeably better mood than yesterday, quizzing the students and high-fiving them when they get the right answer.
Westbrook’s just-go-for-it style extends to his charitable endeavors as well. Last year he started the Why Not? Foundation to help underprivileged families. The name comes from his favorite Twitter hashtag: #whynot. He and some friends at UCLA came up with it. “It’s how we live,” he says. “It’s how we thought about school, life, basketball, and it works, especially when it comes to fashion.”
The size 14 Jordan IVs on Westbrook’s feet are recognizable from a distance. Westbrook pairs them with gray elephant-print Jordan Brand socks, referencing the pattern that first adorned the iconic Jordan IIIs. Even when he doesn’t have to stunt, he still manages to. “It’s natural for me now,” he says. “I don’t leave the house like, ‘Oh, let me get something crazy.’ I just go with it and see what happens.”
Unlike celebrities who rely on personal shoppers and stylists, Westbrook has a keen eye for how he wants to present himself. He shops strategically, going hard in L.A., Chicago, and New York—and supplementing those purchases online. “All of it gets worn, but only once,” says the certified retail fiend. “Nine times out of 10, if I’m wearing something crazy, I can’t wear it again.”
Westbrook’s out-there style has earned him both fans and critics. The Lacoste shirt adorned with all manner of fishing hooks that he sported during the Playoffs left many sportswriters befuddled. But he doesn’t pay attention to the opinions of those who don’t know Thom Browne from Tom Ford. “If you think about what other people say, then you have a problem,” he says. “When it comes to dressing up, a lot of people are worried what others think. You just gotta go with it.”
And go with it he does. Last September, Westbrook found himself at his first New York Fashion Week, sitting next to Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley. “That was my first opportunity to see the process that goes into a show,” he says. “I was backstage a lot.”
Beyond how the clothes look on him, Westbrook takes an interest in construction and materials. This summer he will attend fashion weeks in Milan and Paris, where the taste level is light years ahead. But if Westbrook is intimidated, he’s hiding it well. “I gotta make sure I’m fresh for that,” he says, smirking. “That ain’t gonna be that hard.”
I gotta make sure I’m fresh for [Paris and Milan fashion week]. That ain’t gonna be that hard.
A sleek white Jaguar XF rolls into the parking lot at Oklahoma’s Harn Homestead, the historic farm that’s serving as the backdrop for Westbrook’s cover shoot. Asked how many vehicles he owns, he shrugs and says “a lot,” adding, “cars and clothes are my problem.” Given the Thunder’s success last season, he may also be burdened by great expectations. It doesn’t help that some blame Westbrook for the Thunder’s loss in the pivotal Game 4 of the Finals. He put up 43 points but committed an ill-advised foul in the final seconds, sealing the Heat victory. But he shows no signs of bowing to pressure. “We just play one game at a time,” he says. “Everything else will take care of itself.”
On the farm, Westbrook greets the crew and goes right to work picking out the outfits he’d like to wear. Even with an array of designers like Kenzo, Givenchy, and Giuseppe Zanotti at his fingertips, he’s come prepared with his own Lanvin sneakers, navy suede Polo Ralph Lauren wingtips, and some exclusive Jordans.
It’s evident that Westbrook’s mind for fashion operates on another gear. He knows when a pair of jeans won’t fit him just by looking at them. “Those are gonna be baggy,” he says of a pair of Levi’s 514s. When he sees the skinnier 511 cut on the rack, he proclaims, “That’s my fit.”
Another benefit of his svelte body type is that he can wear garment samples—a serious advantage if you hope to get free clothes. “I can fit into almost everything off the rack,” Westbrook says. He wouldn’t look out of place on the runway, and he says he’s considered modeling in the off-season.
Like many celebrities, Westbrook has also thought about starting his own line. He talks about button-down shirts with zip-off sleeves and creating his own all-over print. He wants to make women’s wear, men’s wear, and even try his hand at children’s clothing. The only rule? “It’d have to be something that catches your eye.”
Of course. Russell Westbrook, basketball star becomes Russell Westbrook, fashion designer? Why not?
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) Rose Garcia. (PROP STYLING) Colin Warde. (GROOMING) Karen Snyder. (CLOTHING) OPENING SPREAD: (LEFT) Sweatshirt by Kenzo / Pants by Dries Van Noten / Shoes by Ralph Lauren / Sunglasses by Silver Linings (RIGHT) Shirt by Kenzo / Jeans by Naked & Famous / Sneakers by Lanvin. PREVIOUS SPREAD: Polo Shirt by Raf Simons for Fred Perry / Pants by Lacoste L!VE / Glasses by Silver Linings / Shoes by Ralph Lauren. THIS SPREAD: Shirt by Saint Laurent / Pants by Paul Smith / Sneakers by Guisepee Zanotti / Sunglasses by Dior / Jacket Stylist's own