Russell Westbrook is a man of extreme focus, even if it’s on the shoelaces of grade schoolers.
The Oklahoma City Thunder‘s triple-double mastermind was featured in a New York Times Magazine piece on Wednesday full of anecdotes that attempt to explain what’s going on with one of the NBA’s most unique superstars. Though it fails to address his weird rivalry with former friend and teammate Kevin Durant in any detail, there’s plenty in the piece despite Westbrook’s own reticence. Teammates and coaches have some great quotes about Russ; his father talks about his signature pull-up jumper, calling it “the cotton shot.” There’s even a great story about Russ demanding Anderson not write that Westbrook is actually left-handed.
The best anecdote of the piece, however, comes on a school bus converted into a library. While doing some charity work for the Thunder handing out books, Westbrook’s zeroed in on the untied shoes of some of the schoolchildren.
Midway through the session, a boy stepped onto the Book Bus with one of his shoelaces dragging behind him.
Westbrook looked down at the floor.
“Tie your shoe, man,” he said.
The boy looked down, too, then kept walking to the back of the bus and picked a book.
When the boy re-emerged, Westbrook handed him a bracelet and a bookmark.
“Have fun in school,” he said. “And tie your shoe up.”
The boy walked off the bus, shoelace still flopping around.
“Don’t forget to tie your shoe!” Westbrook shouted out the door.
Westbrook—who is obsessive over watching game tape and arriving hours early to practice—suddenly got obsessed with these poor kids and their shoes.
From that point on in his Book Bus session, Westbrook’s focus was locked onto the children’s shoelaces, a strangely high percentage of which seemed to be loose. “Your shoe is loose,” Westbrook would say as a child walked onto the bus. “Tie your shoe up.” He was cheerful but firm; he seemed genuinely concerned. Dozens of kids passed through the bus, and Westbrook scrutinized each of their shoes, and not a single loose lace was allowed to pass without comment. Over and over, he told the kids to tie their shoes. Even when the laces were not all the way untied, just trending in that direction, Westbrook pointed it out: “Tie your shoes up.” It was as if he had identified a public safety epidemic that he was single-handedly going to fix, one child at a time.
One boy stepped onto the bus with both of his shoes intentionally untied, laces dragging like catfish whiskers.
“You like to wear your shoes like that, huh?” Westbrook said. “That’s what I used to do, so I get it. But you gotta tuck ’em in.” And before the boy could go back and get his book, Westbrook actually knelt down on the floor of the bus and tucked the boy’s shoelaces into the sides of his shoes.
Westbrook’s obsession with his own shoes is also mentioned in the piece. The detail-oriented point guard can tell the difference in sole flexibility in his custom Nikes and often has the Thunder equipment manager replace ill-fitting soles in his game shoes.
The entire feature is a great look at how Westbrook’s mind works. For as little as Anderson actually got to speak to Westbrook, it does very little speculating on his character or intentions on the court. Russell Westbrook is a gift, and so is this New York Times Magazine feature about him. Go read it already.