When the University of Oklahoma took the field at Memorial Stadium this past Saturday, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was there. While the home team treated a record crowd — and the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks — to a 59-17 drubbing, the presence of the state’s newest favorite son did not go unnoticed. Meanwhile, images of Westbrook sporting a customized Sooner road jersey began appearing on social media after his arrival on the OU sideline:
Russell Westbrook. My Lord. pic.twitter.com/us9LTSkxA0— Eddie Radosevich (@Eddie_Rado) September 10, 2016
Generally, the highlight on any given Saturday at Memorial Stadium in September would be the game, but apparently such was not the case this week, at least not for this surprised Thunder fan:
OU won, I danced on the field, but most importantly I hugged Russell Westbrook❤️ pic.twitter.com/yRyD9x3wba— liv (@LivyNicole21) September 11, 2016
Even OU’s Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield got caught up in a bit of Russel-mania:
Baker Mayfield just walked into the interview room wearing this shirt. Russell Westbrook was in attendance. #Sooners pic.twitter.com/eFfYoHCubd— Brady Vardeman (@BradyVardeman) September 11, 2016
(OMG Baker, please, go see Russell about that outfit..... quick!!)
Westbrook’s attendance wasn’t the only thing drawing attention as former NewsOK Thunder beat writer Anthony Slater took to the web to comment about the number on Russell’s custom jersey:
Russell Westbrook showing up to the OU game in a Brian Bosworth jersey. He's gone full Oklahoma lol https://t.co/QxsA2eUmht— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) September 10, 2016
(Yeh, and Oklahoma has gone full Westbrook so go nibble on another Tofu Burger Cali boy....)
In all fairness to NewsOK’s wayward son, his tweet does beg the question; did Westbrook know his number of choice was worn by the infamous, former Sooner anti-hero, Brian Bosworth? The two-time consensus All-American and winner of the first ever Butkus Awards as the nation’s top linebacker in 1985 and ‘86? An iconoclast remembered as much for his negative exploits off the field as his awe-inspiring performances on it?
Know it? Heck, my guess is that he is embracing it!
Of all the numbers of past Sooner greats; #20 Billy Sims, #30 Greg Pruitt, #24 Joe Washington, #38 Roy Williams, #93 Leroy Selmon, #43 Rod Shoate, or even #4, L.A. freshman sensation, Jamelle Holieway, who led OU to the 1985 National Championship, Westbrook chose the most notorious of all Sooner numbers, Brian Bosworth’s #44.
Accident? From THE most fashion conscience cat in the NBA?
Not hardly. Russell is aware of what he is wearing and what it says.... at all times.
As you can see, the parallels between the former Sooner great and Westbrook are many. They both take on their respective sports at Mach 1, and speak their mind while offering no apologies if they cross some imaginary p.c. boundary line along the way.
The similarities don’t stop there. Westbrook’s foray into the world of fashion is well known. What isn’t well known, or perhaps just forgotten, was Bosworth’s own clothing line, 44 Blues. Bosworth started the trend of high-profile athletes franchising themselves. In this August 14th, 2010 article, the Seattle Time’s Danny O’Neal called Bosworth a pioneer:
He wasn’t just an athlete but a phenomenon. The Boz, a football player and businessman, except that doesn’t quite capture the magnitude of his presence. As Jay-Z would say, he was a business, man.
The Boz printed T-shirts and planned on selling jeans. Seattle’s first modern superstar was an American pioneer. The first NFL player to truly conceive himself as a brand. It has become so common now it’s hard to remember just how groundbreaking the concept was back in the mid-1980s.
Before Deion went neon or Ochocinco danced with the stars, there was The Boz.
He arrived in an era when the coaches were still the icons of professional football. The NFL was Tom Landry’s fedora, Mike Ditka’s glare. Chuck Knox was Seattle’s coach, a product of Pennsylvania coal country whose steely resolve was the backbone of the franchise.
The Boz was something else entirely. He appeared on MTV, “The Tonight Show” and “Good Morning America” — all in the same week in 1987.
He came into the NFL through a supplementary draft and had the gall to inform three-quarters of the teams they would be better off not drafting him. When the Seahawks picked him anyway, he landed an $11 million contract from a franchise originally purchased for $16 million.
According to Bosworth’s autobiography The Boz, he was inspired to transform his persona by the antics of the forever controversial, ex-Chicago Bear quarterback, Jim McMahon:
Bosworth observed the more outrageous McMahon acted or dressed, the more the media ate it up. In other words, Bosworth quickly learned that controversy sells and acted upon it. In his book “The Boz”, he said Sooner All-American Tony Casillas was over-rated and mocked the length of the great Joe Paterno’s pants while laughing at the thickness of his glasses. Barry Switzer was unceremoniously dubbed “the King” and Boz went on to say that because of the size of his teeth, John Elway would have made a great stand-in for Mr. Ed.
The Boz made sure everyone had an opinion about him, and those opinions were as unambiguous as a pregnancy test. Either positive or negative. And then he made money off both sides.
They sold shirts in Denver, “Boz Busters.” They featured his picture with a circle and a line through it. Check the tag, though: 44 Blues.
One day Seahawks teammate Bryan Millard walked through the locker room wearing an anti-Boz shirt and asked Bosworth how he liked the duds.
When Millard walked away, Bosworth turned to Wyman and said, “He just paid for the seat covers on my Corvette.”
Switzer was the coach of the Dallas Cowboys when the team signed a cornerback named Deion Sanders. He called himself “Prime Time,” and traced his nickname back to The Boz.
“When I saw a white linebacker at Oklahoma getting all that attention, that’s when ‘Prime Time’ was born,” Sanders said, according to Switzer.
It wasn’t just Bryan Millard and Bronco fans that unwittingly fattened the Boz’s bank account. Oh yes Miami Hurricanes fans, he got you too. Remember these?
That’s right, you guessed it... 44 Blues, Inc. right on the label... while you were booing and pointing at the shirt, Brian Bosworth was cashing in and laughing at you.
From “Neon” Deion Sanders to Russell Westbrook, and every high-profile athlete in between that has pocketed millions once their fame morphed them into a brand name, they all have Brian Bosworth to thank for paving the way. Who is to say how big “the Boz” would have become had he not foregone shoulder surgery after the 1986 Orange Bowl — a decision that dramatically shortened his professional career and earned Bosworth a place as one of the all-time biggest professional flops.
What isn’t well known is that Bosworth often led the Seahawks in tackles when he was healthy. However, fair or unfair, such is the fate of an anti-hero if they fail to live up to their own bravado. And the somewhat sad truth is it was all an act. The hair, the braggadocio, the nickname, all of it, just a dog and pony show not that dissimilar to an ad for a pickup truck. Unfortunately, at some point Brian got lost behind “the Boz” which brings me to the point of this post.
Excited to announce that my friend Brian Bosworth @GotBoz44 will be riding @BoBikesBama w/ me this year. #BoBikesBama pic.twitter.com/raYplAhEoG— Bo Jackson (@BoJackson) April 2, 2015
(the critics always said Boz tackled too high and on one particular Monday night, Bo proved to his friend that the critics were right)
Westbrook, like Bosworth, is a polarizing figure. His fans adore him while the fans of his opponents generally detest him, but all agree that he is a force to be reckoned with. Now that Kevin Durant has decided to “just have fun” in Cali, Westbrook is the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder — just as Bosworth was the undisputed face of the Oklahoma Sooners in the mid-80’s.
Further, like Bosworth, Westbrook has cast himself in the role of anti-hero. An intriguing character choice that requires much more than a once over to appreciate and one that openly flirts with the total disdain of any detractor that refuses to do so.
Russell wearing Boz 44 for his @OU_Football debut. @news9 pic.twitter.com/xRs3bv6s1l— Dean Blevins (@DeanBlevins) September 10, 2016
Westbrook embracing his inner “Boz” in light of the many challenges that lie ahead for the Thunder is a good thing, but only to a point.
I was and still am a fan of Brian Bozworth. He was the best college linebacker I’ve ever seen, and I’ll admit, I was to some degree, a fan of “the Boz” as well. But like “the Force” from George Lucas’ Star Wars, “the Boz” has a dark side. When “the Dark Boz” overpowered Brian, and the anti-hero turned into an asshole that began turning his back on his coaches and alienating teammates, I stopped being a fan.
Thus Russell should embrace the heart, confidence, and desire of the man that wore #44, but leave the ego that got away from him in the history books where it belongs. Simply, Westbrook should remember who he is, no matter what.
@anthonyVslater not a boz Jersey! Custom Westbrook. Did you expect less? pic.twitter.com/hjbjp6MkiV— Ryan of the Plains (@RyanAllenGray) September 10, 2016
WHEW!!! Now that’s what I’m talking about!! #44, Russell Westbrook, the NEW Sooner Anti Hero!