When he was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game back in February, Russell Westbrook received a brand new Kia SUV as part of the car manufacturer's sponsorship deal with the league. That's a neat little ancillary benefit of winning the MVP, of course, but a free car doesn't really move the needle that much for a well-heeled, highly-paid guy like Westbrook — or, at least, not nearly as much as it would for someone who doesn't make $15.7 million a year.
So the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard decided to give it to somebody for whom it would move the needle.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 6, 2015
While in the midst of trying to carry an injury-plagued Oklahoma City squad to the playoffs with his scoring and playmaking, Westbrook, through his Why Not? Foundation, entreated the Thunder staff to help him dish a different type of assist by finding someone in the community for whom a new car could literally be a life-changing gift.
The Thunder contacted Sunbeam Family Services, a local agency dedicated to helping connect low-income central Oklahomans with needed programs and services, in search of a candidate, and found Kerstin Gonzalez, a 19-year-old single mother of two who's on track to graduate from high school this spring and hopes to pursue higher education while continuing to raise her two boys.
Gonzalez and her two boys, four-year-old Matthew and two-year-old Adam, have had a rough go of things lately. The single mother was just 14 when she got pregnant, as she said, “just a child” when she all of the sudden was forced to be an adult. Gonzalez has been the recipient of Sunbeam Family Services assistance for some time now, and has utilize the extra time and what she saves on diapers and other childcare needs by putting herself in a position to graduate from high school this year, work a job and to apply for colleges, where she wants to study forensic science.
Her current car was not in great driving shape and on Monday morning, the engine wouldn’t start. She has been borrowing cars from family and friends to be able to get to work, to get to school and to pick up her sons. To all of the sudden have that burden of worrying about transportation at all times be lifted was a huge weight off her shoulders.
“It’s so touching and so amazing knowing that there are people out there willing to help the ones that are in need,” Gonzalez said.
Likewise heartening: that Westbrook's willing to help Gonzalez now only on Monday, but in the future, as well, by committing to taking care of the first year of insurance payments, registration and other fees associated with making sure the new SUV is ready for the rubber to meet the road.
Westbrook's demeanor has become a topic of much conversation this season. His disdain for or dispassionate response to interacting with many members of the media in locker-room settings leading to the perception that the 26-year-old dynamo might be something of a sullen, brusque and self-interested sort off the court, even as he dishes out dimes at a career-best (and league-leading) rate on it.
And yet, when Westbrook has lowered his guard and let the public see a bit more of how he interacts with the public and his teammates — as he did in visiting tornado victims after the devastation of 2013, or in allowing Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins behind the curtain in a fascinating recent profile — we see a different side of the four-time All-Star. Those glimpses might be rare, but they're instructive, helping us paint a more complete picture of a man whose work in his community and within his organization make goals like winning the league's Citizenship Award seem less laughable than laudatory.
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Put another way: Russell Westbrook could have gotten a nice public relations boost just by going to a local community service center, taking time out of his playoff push on an off day to talk with folks who are down on their luck. He didn't have to give one a car and make the insurance payments on it. There sure seems to be something extra there ... which probably shouldn't surprise us, since "extra" seems about as apt a descriptor as any of the rest of Russ' public works, from his furious effort on the hardwood to his extreme fashion sense before and after games.
In this case, though, Westbrook's determination to give something extra made a tangible positive impact on the life of a person he'd never met before, which is a pretty neat thing. From Michael Kinney of the Norman Transcript:
“There were definitely tears of joy and I could tell some tears of hard work and all the different things she’s been through in her life,” Westbrook said. “Today was a stepping stone in showing her that everything is going to be alright.” [...]
“It’s just all the hard work that she’s done to be able to keep her family together,” Westbrook said. “When you see somebody working hard towards a goal and finding ways every day to keep everything afloat for her two boys and her family, you can’t do anything but help them out.”
That last part probably isn't true for everybody, but it seems to be true for the Thunder point guard. Good on ya, Russ. Drive safe, Kerstin.
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