OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - DECEMBER 19: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and his Why Not? Foundation bring gifts and holiday cheer to homeless families through the seventh annual Why Not? Holiday Party at the City Rescue Mission on December 19, 2017 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Russell Claus Brings His Sleigh to City Rescue Mission

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Amid the chaos of a DJ booth pumping out Christmas music, a Frozen-themed bouncy house rocking back and forth in a corner, arts and crafts stations, a face-painter, a photo booth a toddler obstacle course and armadillo races, yes, armadillo races, there were two men who commanded attention at the City Rescue Mission on Tuesday.

One was Santa Claus. The other was Russell Westbrook. There was a bit of a funny competition brewing throughout Westbrook’s sixth-annual Christmas Party, held at Oklahoma City’s safe haven for the homeless. Kids were coming over to sit on Santa’s lap, but were rapt with attention when Westbrook took the microphone and began calling the children who are staying at the City Rescue Mission by name.

As they proceeded to the front, Westbrook handed them a pair of Jordan Brand sneakers, in just their size, plus a new Jordan Brand backpack to go with it. As he has for the past nine-plus years in Oklahoma City, Westbrook has noticed a glaring need in town, and put his mind to trying to help remedy it.

“That’s just how I was raised, man. You have to be able to give back, regardless of how much you have,” Westbrook said. “You always give back. Seeing my parents, my family, we’ve all been giving back since we were younger. We didn’t always have everything that we wanted, but my mom and dad always gave back as much as possible. I think it’s important, especially now, in today’s society.”

“I try to do a good job of trying to find ways to make sure other kids and other families are happy,” Westbrook added. “I want to try to continue to do that.”

Watch: Westbrook Dishes Out Holiday Cheer

The kids who are living in the City Rescue Mission are some of the most vulnerable in the entire state. The uncertainty of where they will be next, when they’ll get a good meal and what their family will do next creates a chaos of its own. Not like the excited din of the holiday party, rather much more frightening and gut-wrenching. Westbrook dropped in on Tuesday to do what he could to touch those kids’ lives in some meaningful way – to provide a feeling of hope and understanding, and to remind these children that despite the swirling uncertainty around them that someone cares.

“It was amazing,” a 12-year old named Demetrius said. “He’s my favorite basketball player… I’m speechless.”

“I think the more intimate an event is, the better,” Westbrook said. “Obviously I could do a really big event and just give away toys and different things, but I like to be intimate as possible with kids, give kids an opportunity to talk, to say whatever they want to say to me – if there’s anything.”

As Westbrook explained, the event didn’t necessarily have classroom after classroom of children invited, but it had perhaps some of the most needy kids in the entire state in attendance. To call them up one by one and give them presents, then bend down and help the youngest tots put on and tie their shoes before starting the party back up again was a way for Westbrook to settle the scene, and make an imprint on some children, and parents, who need it most.

Although Westbrook tries to find ways to give back all year round, he’s especially impactful at the holidays. Through his Why Not? Foundation, the Thunder point guard always makes sure to come to the aid of families around Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the strain on families can be at its peak. Westbrook even believes that getting into the holiday spirit and giving back can impact his mood in all aspects of his life. Maybe it even affects the team on the court as well. Not for nothing, the Thunder happens to have the third-best record in the Western Conference this month at 7-3.

“I wake up happy. I like being happy. I like having fun. I like to enjoy life. I like giving back. I like seeing other people smile,” Westbrook grinned. “For me, it definitely relates.”

So on Tuesday it was no surprise that Westbrook’s trademark grin spanned from ear to ear. His wife Nina held their son Noah a few feet away from where Westbrook called out names, and Russell’s brother Ray assisted him with the shoe boxes. That’s why on this night, Santa Claus himself took a backseat. Considering it’ll be his show in less than a week, Santa was more than okay with Westbrook taking over as the yule tide point guard for a day.

“It’s not often that a guy like me gets upstaged, but Russell was here today and I was glad to have some help with a few presents,” Santa Claus said. “But I think I might show him up here in a couple of days.”


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