OPINION: It’s time to get off Russell Westbrook’s back

Dante Centofanti NEW Headshot

Dante Centofanti

Russell Westbrook is the most exciting personality in the NBA. Ever since he entered the association as the fourth pick in the 2008 draft, he has been nothing short of a must-watch player.

One of the reasons why I appreciate him so much is his hustle. If you really watch the NBA, and not just the highlights you’ll see on social media, you can see that very few, if any, other players wear their heart on their sleeve like him.

By breaking Oscar Robertson’s record of averaging a triple-double over a season, he essentially did the impossible — much like if someone were to break Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Despite that, Westbrook still has to deal with constant disrespect from all ends of the basketball spectrum, from fans to the media and everyone in between.

Westbrook has been in the news recently for something not relating to his game, however, as a video surfaced of Westbrook from Monday night of him cursing at a couple during road game against the Utah Jazz. Westbrook said postgame that he was responding to the couple, stating postgame that “a young man and his wife in the stands told me to get down on my knees like you’re used to.”

Westbrook’s anger to a comment like this is justified, and the mere fact that it happened represents a problem we have in the sports world — athletes being treated like zoo animals. We have this expectation that no matter what is said to an athlete from a spectator or fan, the athlete needs to take it and not respond, no matter what is said.

This is another tradition in sports that needs to evolve. Sure, I’m guilty of heckling at sporting events myself, but I kept mine exclusively to known PED users in baseball with the simple and clean “steroid user.”

Looking back at it, I’m ashamed that I did any of that, even though I didn’t go anywhere near crossing the line these fans did in question did to Westbrook. Westbrook stated that the comments were “disrespectful” and “racial.” They most certainly were.

This isn’t the first time Westbrook has had this problem in his career. Granted, there have been times that he has been the bad guy in a situation. His recent mild interaction with a little kid during a national televised game at Denver was not a good look, and neither was him telling a man to “sit down” with his wife and “shut the f— up.” But fans yelling to him and flipping him off 10 feet away from his face isn’t acceptable behavior either.

Westbrook has every right to not tolerate this nonsense. It annoys the life out of me how we cannot appreciate a small-market superstar who hustles up and down the floor, takes pride in how he dresses and defends his fellow players. He is a family man who is a good face for this league.

When you go to a sporting event you need to realize you are watching human beings play a sport they love to put food on the table for their families. If we can’t have sensitivity and see that athletes have human emotions, we are going to be doomed as a society.

Dante Centofanti is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].