Last spring, the league finally recognized Maurice Cheeks, NBA veteran, former head coach, and current Thunder assistant, to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. While Cheeks has accumulated numerous accolades over the course of his time with the NBA, his current role as the unofficial “Russ Whisperer” may be one of the most fascinating. Of course Cheeks played along side Moses Malone, Dr. J, and of course another notoriously emotional guy, Charles Barkley. But Westbrook is a bit different from, well, everybody, and Royce Young does a great job capturing the essence of their relationship.
Westbrook is nothing if not a turntable of platitudes and colloquialisms, so it is notable whenever he snaps out of his pre-recorded script to talk about others who have impacted his life. Related, I think it also notable that Russ doesn’t like talking about himself, but he enjoys talking about others very much.
The synergy between Westbrook and Cheeks started basically from Day 1, when Cheeks was brought in as a top assistant under Scott Brooks in 2009 with a pretty straightforward job description: Russ.
Westbrook was coming off a rocky rookie season that featured ample criticism, too many turnovers and an outsider belief that he wasn’t actually the team’s point guard of the future. Critics said Westbrook, while he could create moments of brilliance, was too wild to run a team.
Cheeks went to work quickly, building a unique bond that has remained strong for more than a decade. He became the unofficial Westbrook Whisperer.
With Cheeks — whose accomplishments are numerous yet his personal metrics, now so much a part of the way we think about the game, subdued — repeatedly getting passed over for the Hall, Westbrook took it upon himself to promote his coach and mentor:
Last December, when Cheeks wasn’t yet named a Hall of Famer, Westbrook made an unprompted pitch for his assistant coach, but not necessarily because of his on-court achievements.
”That’s just the stigma,” Westbrook said of the complicated nature of legacy. “If you won, oh, three championships, then [you’re worthy]. Like, in my opinion, Coach Cheeks -- I tell him all the time he should be [in the Hall of Fame] because of the different things he’s done, not just for the game of basketball, but in everything. Like for me, just talking to him.”
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