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Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook delivers inspiration in Tokyo visit

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Russell Westbrook brought smiles to enthusiastic fans’ faces on a festive Tuesday morning in Tokyo.

Visiting Japan for the first time, he made a promotional stop at a crowded Nike shop in Harajuku as part of the ongoing Russell Westbrook 2018 Why Not Tour.

As he stepped on the stage, with NBA and B. League analyst Chris Sasaki serving simultaneously as master of ceremonies and translator, Westbrook was treated to a rock star’s entrance, not unlike the intro to a concert at a stadium. He made previous promotional stops in Shanghai and Beijing. The Tokyo stop was the final stretch of the summer tour.

Fans cheered and clapped for the seven-time NBA All-Star. He provided a glimpse into his life and basketball career and his thoughts on being a role model.

“It’s been amazing here,” Westbrook said, summing up his visit.

“People are showing me love,” he added. “I’m happy to be here.”

The feeling was mutual. Fans donned the Oklahoma City Thunder star’s No. 0 jersey and T-shirt. They snapped his photo and shot short videos, raising their cellphones to record the memories.

The Thunder are coming off a 48-34 season, with Westbrook and Paul George expected to shoulder a heavy load on offense for coach Billy Donovan’s club. Westbrook is raring to go.

“I feel great, man,” said Westbrook, looking ahead to the upcoming season. “We have a great team, a great group of guys. It should be an exciting season.”

The 190-cm floor leader has averaged 20 or more points per game for eight straight seasons. He’s dished out 10 or more assists per contest for three straight campaigns, and pulled down 10 or more rebounds in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Two seasons ago, the former UCLA standout became the first NBA player since Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season. The Big O accomplished the feat in 1961-62 for the Cincinnati Royals, posting averages of 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

This much is certain: Westbrook, too, will take a journey to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, someday.

How does Westbrook’s signature phrase, Why Not, shape his approach to basketball and life?

“For me, it’s just aspiring the youth and aspiring people to believe in themselves . . . and do anything they put their mind to,” Westbrook said.

Westbrook’s motor is always running on the court. He plays with incredible energy — a staple of his pro career, which began in 2008. He was drafted No. 4 overall that summer, when the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City. He has played his entire pro career for OKC.

Indeed, he prides himself on his work ethic and the message that it sends to his teammates and the youth.

“I think the most important thing,” Westbrook said, “is you have to do the same thing that you ask others to do — go all out each game on the floor.”

Westbrook, who was born in Long Beach, California, answered a couple questions from fans. One young fan named Ibuki asked him if he could offer any advice to players.

The two-time All-Star Game MVP responded by telling him and the other fans that determination is key. He added: “Being committed and staying focused and practice every single day. . .”

He was also asked about the responsibility that comes with being a highly visible role model.

“I’m very blessed and humble,” he said of his outlook on life.

“I really stand behind that motto. It’s helped me be positive every day and inspire people around the world.”

He established the Russell Westbrook Why Not? Foundation in 2012. Its mission is to inspire the lives of children, empower them to ask ” ‘Why Not?’ and teach them to never give up,” according to a statement on its website.

Westbrook, a member of Team USA’s gold-medal winning squad at the 2012 London Olympics, demonstrated a comedian’s gift for timing toward the end of his talk session with fans at the Nike store.

“Selfie time,” he blurted out before hundreds of cellphones sprung into action at the same time.

The upbeat session ended with Sasaki leading a chant of “3, 2, 1, Why not!”

A children’s clinic took place for 30 minutes in late afternoon. It was followed by an exhibition match, with a group of players competing under the AllDay AllStar banner against the Westbrook-led Team Why Not, featuring B. League players, at Yoyogi Park in a five-on-five game.

For Team Why Not, Ira Brown (Ryukyu Golden Kings), Yuta Tabuse (Tochigi Brex), Kosuke Takeuchi (Brex), Tomoya Ochiai (Brex), Hiryu Okamoto (Hiroshima Dragonflies), Yuki Togashi (Chiba Jets Funabashi) and Takatoshi Furukawa (Golden Kings) competed.