×

Please verify

Watch LIVE

Whitlock: To protect his brand, Russell Westbrook, Nike, and ESPN channel Jussie Smollett

Op-ed
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Monday night, in the aftermath of the Los Angeles Lakers’ latest loss, the team’s struggling point guard, Russell Westbrook, claimed that fans and pundits who have taken to calling him “Westbrick” are unfairly shaming his family and name.

Westbrook intimated that moving forward, he would confront and/or challenge anyone who used the Westbrick nickname to refer to his shooting woes. He insinuated the derisive nickname damaged his young son.

“I’ve kind of let it go in the past because it never really bothered me,” Westbrook told reporters. “But it really kind of hit me the other day. Me and my wife were at teacher-parent conference for my son. And the teacher told me, ‘Noah, he’s so proud of his last name. He writes it everywhere. He writes it on everything. He tells everybody and walks around and says, ‘I’m Westbrook.’ … I kind of sat there in shock, and it hit me, like, ‘Damn. I can no longer allow people to (call me Westbrick) and shaming my kids.’”

Hours before Monday’s game, Westbrook’s wife, Nina, tweeted that she was growing frustrated over the online harassment she faces as her husband struggles on the court.

“When I’m being harassed on a daily basis over basketball games, and I’m having (obscenities) 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.”

Russell and Nina Westbrook are pretending to protect their family. What they’re really trying to protect is the Russell Westbrook brand.

Like all athletes and celebrities in the social media era, Russell Westbrook is a brand. To quote the rapper Jay Z, “Westbrook is a business, man.” He’s a major corporation who, between NBA salary and endorsements, annually generates $70 million. Westbrook’s stock is tanking. His value as an endorser, influencer, or spokesman is plummeting. Fox Sports broadcaster Skip Bayless and others are shorting the Westbrook brand. Three days before executing their Monday public relations campaign, Nina Westbrook criticized Bayless for calling her husband Westbrick.

“I’m tired (of) you @realskipbayless calling my husband out of his name,” she tweeted. “It is extremely childish. That is my name as well, and many other peoples name. You’re disrespectful, and I’m extremely offended by your behavior. You should apologize.”

This is all brand protection disguised as family protection. Over the course of his career, Westbrook has earned more than $250 million from the NBA and more than another $100 million in endorsements. He is a successful business with a very uncertain future. He is using social and corporate media to protect his brand.

Without offering proof, Westbrook’s wife claimed she is receiving “death wishes.” That is an interesting and intentional word choice. She did not say “death threats.” There’s a difference between someone saying, for example, “I hope Russell Westbrook swallows a basketball and dies” and someone saying, “I’m going to kill Russell Westbrook.”

The first is an inappropriate wish or sentiment. The latter is a threat.

ESPN talking heads pretended the Westbrooks have been threatened. Tuesday, the network hosted a daylong discussion about fans “threatening” Westbrook’s family. Fans were scolded and demonized.

There’s no proof that anyone has threatened Westbrook or his family. There’s no proof that anyone wished death on Westbrook or his family. There’s only a tweet from the co-president (Nina) of Russell Westbrook Inc.

When someone receives a legitimate death threat, they call the police, the FBI, or their neighborhood gang leader. They don’t tweet.

Heck, Jussie Smollett called the police and he was lying.

Pro tip: You tweet for attention, not protection. This is basic common sense that corporate media ignores, especially when it comes to analyzing elite celebrity brands. Tweets from left-leaning elites are treated as epistles. Their veracity should not be questioned.

On a daily basis, Nina Westbrook is being harassed with obscenities and death wishes. Really? Are we sure? Are we allowed to ask for proof? Or is this like the racial epitaph spray-painted on LeBron James’ Brentwood mansion? Let’s just take LeBron’s word for it.

Has Nina Westbrook considered deleting her Twitter account? Wouldn’t that fix it?

But as the co-president of Russell Westbrook Inc., she can’t leave social media. It’s a necessary evil. Social media is where humans convert to brands. Brands are often dishonest and fake. Brands don’t have moral codes. The financial needs of brands are never met.

When his NBA career is over, Westbrook plans to earn millions of dollars off his name. It’s a basketball blueprint established by Michael Jordan. In 2017, Nike’s Jordan brand signed a 10-year contract extension with Westbrook, the then-reigning MVP and triple-double king.

It’s hard to sell basketball shoes when everyone is calling you “Westbrick.”

Nike, the real Worldwide Leader in Sports, helped Russell and Nina Westbrook concoct their public relations campaign. ESPN is playing along because Nike runs the NBA and the league is ESPN’s most important business partner.

With the way Westbrook has been exposed this season, Nike will struggle to give away his shoes at a homeless shelter.

There’s nothing a corporation won’t do to protect an important brand. Don’t be surprised when Nike hires men from Somalia to don MAGA hats and kidnap Russell Westbrook outside a Subway store.

More Fearless
All Articles