Westbrook recognized for off-court work in first season in D.C.

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After another year of impactful work in the community, Russell Westbrook has been named one of the NBA’s 10 finalists for the 2020-21 Seasonlong NBA Cares Community Assist Award. Westbrook’s philanthropy and service was wide-ranging, including work in finance and education, as well as efforts to ease the struggles of the homeless and underserved during the winter. The throughline of Westbrook’s off-court work is his dedication to using his platform to shrink societal gaps in wealth, education and opportunity – and raise awareness for persistent racial inequity in our country.

Westbrook wasted no time making an impact on his new home after arriving in D.C. just before the start of the season,. Just a few days following his preseason debut with the Wizards, Westbrook hosted a drive-through giveaway at The Children’s Guild, a Northeast D.C. charter school, surprising students, many of whom come from homeless or unstable housing, with Jordan Brand shoes, backpacks, branded facemasks and wristbands.

“He practices what he preaches,” school principal Bryan Daniels said of Westbrook on the day of the event. “He is a true believer that you have to always give back to the community. He did not waste any time…It just shows he believes in the kids and that he wants to do anything he can do to make sure the kids have opportunities. He’s giving back. It’s an awesome gesture that my kids are not going to forget.”

The following month marked a tumultuous time for the country, the D.C. community and the Wizards organization. The January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, just blocks away from Capital One Arena, fueled divisiveness across the country and put all of downtown D.C. on edge for weeks. Shortly thereafter, the Wizards were sidelined for nearly two weeks due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Suddenly, in the middle of the season, the entire team was unable to meet, practice or play. When asked earlier this season how he used that time away from the court, Westbrook said it provided an opportunity to reflect on everything that had happened in the previous weeks and how he could use his platform to make a tangible, long-lasting impact where it was needed most.

“Every day, all day long, every night, my mind is always going on how I can change the world,” Westbrook said earlier this season. “For me, it’s something I always believe: when you dream, dream big; when you fail, fail big. That’s what I believe in and it kind of goes back to my ‘why not’ mentality and how I think and how I see the world and how I can change things in our society.”

“Now being here in D.C., I believe things happen for a reason,” Westbrook said during another press conference this season. “If God has put me in a position to get closer to here and now being able to be in the capital and understanding the people and the resources here…finding ways to be able to get into each of those doors. I believe that I can do that with my platform and I believe a lot of NBA players believe they can do the same.”

In the following weeks, Westbrook got to work.

When a February winter storm ravaged Houston, the city Westbrook called home the season prior to joining the Wizards, Westbrook made a sizeable donation to the Houston Harris County Winter Storm Relief Fund to assist with home repairs in the area.

In Los Angeles, Westbrook’s hometown, he worked with the LA Promise Fund to launch the Russell Westbrook Why Not? Academy, a middle and high school striving to increase access for young students to educational and outdoor opportunities, prepare them for college and help them develop as “active citizens committed to social change.”

The same month, Westbrook joined Varo Bank as a new investor and advisor, where he will help develop new programs to improve financial literacy within the Black community. Westbrook’s financial endeavors, which also include a partnership with Evolution Advisors, LLC as a founding partner, are part of his ongoing efforts to shrink the wealth gap that minority communities face in American society.

Last month, the History Channel debuted a Westbrook-produced documentary titled “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre,” which told the story of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and burning of Black Wall Street, which has been neglected and overlooked in American history for decades.

Westbrook was praised all season by coaches and teammates for his leadership in the locker room and constant communication on the court, but his efforts to bring younger teammates under his wing and set an example for everyone in the organization has been equally impactful. Just before his holiday giveaway at The Children’s Guild, right after the Wizards wrapped a preseason practice, Westbrook approached rookies Deni Avdija and Cassius Winston and asked them to join him at the event. Avdija was surprised, as he had planned to stay after practice to continue working out, but Westbrook insisted. Both Avdija and Winston attended and got a firsthand look at how wide-ranging Westbrook’s impact really was.

“Leadership is not about what you say and all the (expletive) that people see and all that,” Westbrook said. “It’s about what you do and how you impact and better your teammates as men, as people, as they grow in their relationships outside of basketball. Leadership to me is defined differently. I take an approach the same way I’ve always taken it, coming in and using my voice. But not just that – connecting with the guys on a different level. I try to do that with each one of my teammates. That’s the sacrifice it takes to be a leader.”

This season, Westbrook helped spark a remarkable late-season Wizards turnaround, averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in his career and broke Oscar Robertson’s all-time triple-double record. He led the league in both total assists (763) and assists per game (11.7) – and added a career-high 11.5 rebounds per game. Westbrook continued to build on one of the most impressive on-court careers of this generation. Still, at any mention of the word “legacy,” the former MVP will insist that it’s not the triple-doubles, stats or on-court moments that will define how he is remembered.

“I feel like my legacy is going to be determined by what I’ve done for the game and how I’ve used this platform to impact others across the world, impact our underserved communities, impact our African-American communities, impact our school system, our financial system – closing these gaps in our system today,” Westbrook said. “That’s legacy for me.”

Fans can vote for Westbrook via Jebbit, where they can view and select videos highlighting his impact, or on Twitter by using #NBACommunityAssist and @russwest44 or #RussellWestbrook. Retweets are also counted and votes cast on the first and last day (June 8 and June 19) will count twice towards a player’s total. Fan voting for the award began on Tuesday on social media at 12:00 p.m. and concludes on Saturday, June 19, at 11:59 p.m. The winner will be determined by a combination of fan voting and voting by an NBA executive panel and announced at a future virtual presentation.

Along with Westbrook, the other nominees for the award are DeAndre’ Bembry (Toronto), Devin Booker (Phoenix), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee), Damian Lillard (Portland), Patty Mills (San Antonio), Donovan Mitchell (Utah), Larry Nance Jr. (Cleveland) and Josh Richardson (Dallas). The 10 nominees include the offseason winner, six monthly winners and three additional players (including Westbrook) selected by the NBA for their exceptional community work. The winning player will receive $25,000 to their charity of choice, a donation from the NBA and Kaiser Permanente.