Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is among the most eager and verbose figures in the NBA, which makes him the opposite of Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Whereas Kerr will take the time to give his thoughts on gun control or own up to his own mistakes, Westbrook has pretty much always been antagonistic to the media. Kerr thinks it’s going too far.
The primary recipient of Westbrook’s icy refusal to talk at pressers has been the Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel, who wrote a column earlier this month about Westbrook’s habitual “next question” response. Tramel told Slate’s Nick Greene that he thinks Westbrook put up his wall this season after taking issue with a question the columnist asked after a January overtime loss to the Lakers. Of course, their non-relationship goes back years, as Westbrook straight up told Tramel in 2015, “I don’t like you.” In his column, Tramel believes that Westbrook’s beef isn’t with him, but rather “media in general.”
Kerr spoke to The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss after the Warriors’ game Sunday, saying of Westbrook’s presser approach, “I think it’s dangerous for the league.” To the Warriors coach, Westbrook’s behavior jeopardizes the NBA’s star-driven model, where players are marketed by the league on the force of their personalities as much as what they do on the court:
I just feel that we have to be very careful as a league. We’re in a good place right now. Very popular. Fans love the game, the social dynamic, the fashion. But more than anything they love the connection they feel to the players. I think it’s important for the players to understand that it’s a key dynamic to this league. I don’t think this is a healthy dynamic, for this league, for any player, any team, any local media, any national media.
There’s always been this stuff. There’s always been players and media members having issues and maybe non-responses, whatever. I don’t think this is brand new, but we’re in an era where there’s 24/7 access, and that access is what’s driven revenue so much and players need to remember that.
Candor in players and coaches can be harder to find in MLB or the NFL, and it makes sense that the NBA would have a little trouble if more of its best players acted like Westbrook and openly scorned anyone with a microphone. Is his iciness in any danger of creating that slippery of a slope, though? Every league has had its share of superstar assholes. Tramel can continue to ask his inoffensive questions, while Westbrook can continue to be a jerk about it, but it’s tough to see this tactic catching on. Very few people are as unbending or competitive as Westbrook in the first place.