Like many of his fellow NBA players, family is a very important thing for Russell Westbrook. The Oklahoma City point guard is currently in his fourth NBA season, all spent with the Thunder after being the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft by Seattle.
He comes off a season where he was named an NBA All-Star for the first time, averaged 21.9 points, 8.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game during the regular season and chipped in 23.8 points, 6.4 assists and 5.4 rebounds in the 2011 playoffs, as the UCLA product was a key contributor as the Thunder advanced all the way to the 2011 Western Conference Finals before falling to eventual league champion Dallas.
And through seven games this season, Westbrook is averaging 17.1 points, 5.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds for OKC. However, the Thunder floor general is averaging 4.6 turnovers per game, a number that definitely needs to be improved on but the sample size is relatively small, so his turnovers should even out over the course of the truncated 66-game season.
To watch him run the offense for head coach Scott Brooks and to see his demeanor on the court, it's definitely a fair statement to say that he plays with some anger and a bit of a chip on his shoulder. But he wouldn't have it any other way.
"All the time I play with a chip on my shoulder, that's just how I was brought up. My family, nobody ever gave us anything," Westbrook said. "Regardless of what anybody says, you're always going to have a chip on your shoulder regardless of what happens."
Speaking of family, he even shares the same name as his father, Russell Westbrook, Jr. And just to avoid any confusion, the current NBA All-Star is actually Russell Westbrook, III.
Westbrook has worn No. 0 for the last few years but at one time, he wore a digit as a show of respect toward his family, who has played such an integral role in him reaching such heights in the Association.
"My favorite number's four. I couldn't get four when I got to college or when I got here," he said. "Four is my favorite number, four people in my family. My family is everything. They do a lot for me, so that's where that comes from."
So considering how much family means to this talented young point man, it shouldn't be a big surprise that he is part of a Thunder roster that is among the youngest in the NBA. And it's definitely a team that has a family vibe, including among its legion of fans in the Sooner State.
"They our fans do a great job. It's like college. It's like a college town," Westbrook said. "They take care of us. That's the best basketball town in the league. I just think our fans are the best."
One reason why the Thunder players have become such a tight knit group is that other than several minor moves, the club's roster has remained the same for much of the last few seasons.
"It is big," Westbrook said. "We're all young guys and know what it takes to win and have a winning basketball team. That's what we're trying to do."
But like any family, there are going to be arguments and disagreements, one of which involved him and teammate Kevin Durant in a game last week at Memphis. Despite reports to the contrary, there is no bad blood between these two budding young stars.
"There's a lot of people that want to see us fail," Durant said. "I love Russell. He loves me back and we enjoy playing alongside each other."
Another key aspect of the unique experience of playing in the Oklahoma state capital is that despite the Thunder's steady climb up the NBA ranks over the last few years coupled with the fact that many league experts in the media have called them a lock to play for the 2012 NBA title, their fan base hasn't been putting any extra pressure on them to bring home the Lawrence O'Brien Trophy.
"I don't think it's pressure at all. Nobody feels pressure to do anything out there on the floor," Westbrook said.
Seeing him in year four of his NBA career, it's hard to fathom how he is a player who didn't even get one college offer until his senior year of high school. Maybe part of that was the fact that upon entering high school in his home town of Long Beach, California, he was a mere 5-foot-8.
But by the time he graduated and was headed to play his college ball at nearby UCLA, he had shot up to 6-foot-3, including a sizeable growth spurt during the summer between his junior and senior year. "Yeah, between my junior and senior year, I was about 5-9, 5-10 to like 6-2, 6-3. Something that happened quick," Westbrook said. "It was good for me. I don't even know how it happened. It just happened."
Some might think that having such a considerable growth spurt might have changed the way he approached the game, even in the most subtle ways, but he begs to differ.
"No, not really. I just played the same way I played but I had a better advantage," Westbrook said.
Once he arrived in Westwood, he envisioned himself spending all four years with the Bruins. However, after two seasons, he was headed to the league, a time in his life that is currently nothing but a blur as he looks back.
"It just happened so fast. When I got to college, I thought I would be in college for four years but it happened so fast, I don't even remember," Westbrook said. "I was just going with the flow at the time."
Since coming to the league, Westbrook has not only brought that chip on his shoulder to the NBA, but he has also continued to evolve as a player. Now an All-Star, along with Kevin Durant, he has been one of the biggest reasons why the Thunder has gone from an up-and-comer in the Western Conference to a legitimate championship contender. And should he help OKC reach the Promised Land and hoist a championship trophy, then he will join his boyhood idol, one Magic Johnson, as an NBA champion, pretty good company for the Long Beach native, solid company indeed.