Tragic Details About Russell Westbrook

There's a lot to NBA player Russell Westbrook beyond the MVP awards and the Olympic gold medals and the NBA Finals. The famous scowl he wears when facing opponents has become legendary. Much has been said about the next-level speed he reaches when driving to the basket. And behind it all are the tragedies and obstacles that he's experienced as a kid and adult.

Born in Long Beach, California, the former UCLA player has been a star in the NBA from early on. In 2021 he was named one of the 75 best players to ever be in the league. He also won the NBA's Most Valuable Player award for the 2016-2017 season. Not to mention, he received an Olympic gold medal in 2012. 

But Westbrook would probably give back the medal and award, maybe even his NBA career, if he could trade them in for the darker times in his life. We listed some of them, so keep on reading to learn some of the tragic details about Westbrook.

Russell Westbrook had a humble start

When Russell Westbrook arrived on November 12, 1988, and gave his first cry, a silver spoon certainly didn't come flying out of his mouth. Long before he became one of the highest paid NBA stars, he came from humble beginnings while living in various parts of Los Angeles. As he told Bleacher Report, money was tight for his family, but his parents did as much as they could to set up their two sons for success. 

"My childhood was interesting," Westbrook once told ESPN. "I was born in LA, at Long Beach Memorial, and we moved around inner-city LA. ... I lived at 83rd, and 66th and Normandie, the inner city. I was in Hawthorne when I got to high school, and it got rougher and rougher as I got older." 

He said he navigated himself around surrounding pitfalls thanks to his father, Russell Westbrook Jr., someone who was said to be strict. The NBA star also had to be a good role model for his younger brother Raynard Westbrook. "My childhood, I wouldn't say it was bad. It helped me grow up. I stayed out of trouble," he said in another part of that ESPN interview. "My parents taught me what's wrong and right, and knowing that I had a little brother following me, I had to make sure I was doing the right thing so he knows what's right, too. I was in the house nine days out of 10. There wasn't nothing good outside for me." 

He suffered a tragedy as a teen

Sadly, tragedy came early for Russell Westbrook. It was during his teenage years when he was attending Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, California, and his best friend suddenly passed away. His name was Khelcey Barrs III, and he and Westbrook lived across the street from each other in Hawthorne. Not only that, they shared a deep passion for basketball and dreamt of one day being teammates on UCLA's squad. Barrs, according to Vice, was regarded as one of the best players who ever walked through Leuzinger's halls.

He died on May 11, 2004, at 16 years old after falling to the floor during a scrimmage from an enlarged heart that wasn't diagnosed. From that point, Westbrook would use his friend's death as motivation, and to honor him, he sports a wristband and sneakers that say "KB3."

"Khelcey is always going to be a part of my life," said Westbrook in an interview with ESPN. In 2016, he spoke about the drive that his late friend gives him with sports journalist Graham Bensinger. "I just feel like I just got to come out every day, every game ... to work as hard as I can, to put myself in a position to be the best player I can be," Westbrook explained. "He's always a part of me no matter where I'm at or what I'm doing."

Russell Westbrook mourned Nipsey Hussle

On March 31, 2019, rapper Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed in Los Angeles. This loss hit hard, and Russell Westbrook was one of the many public figures to share his grief on social media. "YOU'RE ONE OF ONE BRO!!! Rest Up King 🙏🏾🙏🏾," he tweeted after the news broke. Then one day later, Westbrook shared a photo of himself and Hussle, and on the following day, he dedicated his 20-20-20 game to him. In a match-up against the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA star scored 20 points, grabbed 20 rebounds, and had 21 assists. And on the final rebound, he mouthed the words, "That's for Nipsey." 

"That wasn't for me, man. That was for my bro, Nipsey, man," said Westbrook after the game. "Twenty plus 20 plus 20, they know what that means, man and that's for my bro. Rest in peace, Nipsey man." Hussle was a known member of the Rollin' 60s Crips street gang in Los Angeles, so Westbrook added up his stats to make 60 as a way to pay tribute. The beloved musician was shot in front of The Marathon Clothing store, which he owned. In July 2022, a man named Eric Holder was found guilty of first-degree murder.

He was sued by fans who taunted him

First, there was some heckling, then an intense verbal confrontation, followed by a lawsuit. In 2019, Russell Westbrook and Utah Jazz fans Shane Keisel and Jennifer Huff got into an argument when Keisel taunted the basketball player. During the confrontation, swear words were exchanged, plus threats. Peace was soon restored, but Shane and Huff were banned from all Jazz home games. Additionally, they weren't allowed to attend any events at the team's Vivint Smart Home Arena. For his part, Westbrook was fined $25,000 for swearing and hurling threats.

"A young man and his wife in the stands told me to get down on my knees like you used to," said Westbrook after the game. "To me, that's just completely disrespectful. I think it's racial, and I think it's inappropriate in the sense that there's no protection for the players."

Keisel gave his side of the story to a local reporter, claiming he was heckling Westbrook about the heat packs he was using on his knees during the game. Then later, Keisel and Huff sued him and the Jazz for $100 million, claiming defamation and infliction of emotional distress, per Sports Illustrated. But the suit was eventually tossed out by a judge. Westbrook, however, would have many other run-ins with fans after that one.  

Russell Westbrook was left with a dent in his face

Seeing a dent in a car door is pretty common and most probably wouldn't bat an eye at seeing a ding in, say, a soda can or another tin object. But someone's face getting dented? Now, that's something in its own flukish category and it happened to Russell Westbrook in 2015. It went down at the end of a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Westbrook's Oklahoma City Thunder. In short, Westbrook wound up with a deep dent in his cheekbone area as if part of his face imploded.

The L.A. native was trying to get his own rebound at the time and score after purposely missing a free throw. It's a common basketball move that's used when time has nearly expired and a team needs more than a single free throw point to win the game. But instead of getting a tip-in, Westbrook was accidentally kneed in his face by teammate Andre Roberson. Later, it was determined that Westbrook fractured the zygomatic arch bone in his right cheek, which required surgery. ESPN eventually reported that the procedure went well, and after all of that, Westbrook only missed one game. Boy, talk about a fast recovery after a gruesome injury. 

He received 'death wishes' over poor play

Consider these two factors: Russell Westbrook is from the Los Angeles area, and he grew up rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers. So it seemed the West Coast stars aligned for him in 2021 when he was traded to the Lakers by the Washington Wizards. It should've worked out wonderfully for him, right?

But things didn't go smoothly for Russell in his first season. In fact, they were rockier than one of L.A's mountain ranges. Not only did he have one of his worst seasons ever statistically, Lakers fans let him have it online and gave him the name "Westbrick" due to how badly he was missing shots. Russell and his family even began receiving death threats over the subpar play.

"When I'm being harassed on a daily basis over basketball games, and I'm having obscenity's and death wishes for me and my family sent my way because you're expressing your 'truth', it's hard for me to get on board with that," tweeted Westbrook's wife Nina Westbrook in March of 2022. "This is my life, my children's lives, and my families life. Shaming anyone for any reason is never the answer," she added. Westbrook later addressed the harassment in a post-game press conference, saying he'll no longer allow people to shame his name, as it is disrespectful to his whole family. 

The loss of Kobe Bryant

Russell Westbrook dealt with death early on in his life with the passing of his best friend Khelcey Barrs, and some years later, he would be devastated by another loss. Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others. A few days after the news broke, Westbrook eulogized the basketball great with a heartfelt message that he posted on Facebook

"I met Kobe when I was 16 at UCLA playing against him in a pick up game," Westbrook recalled. "He played like it was the NBA finals. From that point on, I decided that I wanted to emulate his Mamba mentality. At the time, there was no name for it, but I recognized in him what I always felt in myself. He became a friend, a brother, a mentor, a teacher, he defended me, he believed in me, and he taught me how to weather the storm." 

In 2021, Westbrook was signed to the Los Angeles Lakers, the team Kobe played on for the entirety of his 20-year career. After he was traded to the hoop legend's former team, Westbrook told reporters that he would talk to Kobe about wanting to become a Laker at some point in his career. "That'll be with me every time I put that Lakers jersey on," he said.