How Russell Westbrook, NBA Renaissance Man, Is Redefining the Role of Spokesman

With a burgeoning fashion career and devoted social following

Most professional athletes define their legacy exclusively by what they accomplish in the game. That doesn’t work for Russell Westbrook. Though he’s become a legitimate superstar in the National Basketball Association in his eight years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook refuses to be pigeonholed as just an NBA star—or any singular role, for that matter.

Westbrook was the first athlete that Barneys, which is better known for working with the likes of Jay-Z and Lady Gaga, collaborated with. “This was something that seemed to us to be a natural,” explains Kalenderian. “He can sit and have a conversation with me or any of my merchandising teams and any manufacturer or designer and speak on the same terms.” Unlike Barneys’ work with Lady Gaga and Jay-Z, which lasted only for two months, Westbrook’s work with the retailer spanned two years.

“The fact that we issued four completely separate collections over that time is not a typical scenario,” notes Kalenderian. “A project that was intended to be two years has now become such a great friendship and working relationship that we’re very interested in continuing with Russell on a case-by-case basis.”

Even Westbrook’s shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan brand is atypical of the average sports star. Instead of signing off on a derivation of a basketball shoe, as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have done, Westbrook actually designed the first lifestyle shoe with the Jordan brand, The Westbrook Zero. “It’s going to be all on the fashion side,” boasts Foucher. “It’s going to compete with Gucci, Prada and all of those shoes.”

There was a time when conventional wisdom dictated that to craft this type of star power on and off the court, Westbrook would have to play in New York or L.A.—and yet he’s had a hand in creating this new normal in pro sports. “There’s really no such thing as a small market,” says Westbrook, whose Thunder play in the 43rd media market in the U.S., and third-smallest in the NBA (ahead of Memphis and New Orleans).

The small-market setting gives the Thunder a different vibe than playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden or the Staples Center. The Chesapeake Energy Arena, situated in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City, sucks in all the nightlife like a vortex on game nights. And Westbrook has embraced that intimacy the city enjoys with its one and only professional sports franchise. He filmed his Mountain Dew and Jordan commercials, among others, in the city. “OKC has been like a hotbed for commercials,” says Foucher.


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