This article was posted with permission from Tercer Tiempo in 2012, during Team USA's preparation for their gold medal run during the London Olympics.
Adversity is a noun that’s thrown around all the time when it comes to describing our favorite athletes in overcoming hardship, misfortune, and downright calamity.
Overcoming adversity can come in many forms. While many associate it with the struggle of financial hardship, or the lacking of a family structure, or even dealing with issues of abuse, be it mental, physical or of the substance variety. These are the narratives that have been beat in the ground by writers and bloggers like myself since I can remember. Of course, the adversity that is relevant in my mind for this article is different.
Its the adversity of someone of whom you want their confirmation, their support, their belief in your personal ability to be accepted and appreciated.
Every basketball fan of my generation knows the story of Michael Jordan, how his high basketball coach cut him from the varsity team, told him to play junior varsity. A plight that almost every high school basketball player can understand. (Raises hand.) Jordan overcame “being cut” and became the global icon for everything that represents the game of basketball. Yes, we all know that story.
For Russell Westbrook, its not the case of being cut by a coach, but by being told by almost everyone who evaluates talent that you should find a different profession. An interview by Berry Tramel from the DailyOklahoman of former Stanford head coach reveals that many thought Westbrook should be running the sprints in the Olympics in London, not the court.
A visit with TCU basketball coach Trent Johnson on Monday brought another Westbrook story. Johnson coached four seasons at Stanford, 2004-08, during which Westbrook was coming out of high school and eventually signed with UCLA, with the last scholarship from the Bruins, who did not heavily recruit him.
Johnson says that when Westbrook was a high school prospect, Johnson scouted Westbrook and had the same advice for him that most coaches did: Go run track.
Johnson chuckles at it now. Think about that. Seven years later, Westbrook is one of the best players in the world. A player that Mike Krzyzewski raves about on the U.S. Olympic team. A player that Kobe Bryant himself testified he couldn’t take his eyes off of (Westbrook’s 43 points in Game 4 of the NBA Finals). And yet a player who wasn’t even considered a basketball player, just a freak athlete, not that long ago.
Westbrook’s not only one of the best players in the world, I’d argue that he’s one of the top 10 players in the league.
He’s that good. In a league where aggression and activity is rewarded as being proactive, Westbrook is at the top of the class. Sure he’s got room to grow, but there’s never a time where you look at what Westbrook’s doing on the court and can’t admit that his heart was in the right place in doing said things. You’ll never question his heart or his motor, and his teammates love playing with him. What more can you ask for?
This isn’t meant to serve as a love affair with Westbrook and his game, (okay, yes it is) but it is meant to serve as an example in sticking with something that you love. Westbrook will be representing Team USA in London proudly, and his backstory is just another example of the American dream coming to fruition.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”