Russell Westbrook is one of the most polarizing NBA players. Fans love his relentless play and never-say-no attitude. They see a guy with goofy social media posts and a carefree fashion sense. Those who dislike him see an athlete who cares more about stats than winning and is needlessly rude to the media. Both sides, however, may see a different side of Westbrook when they learn about a specific tragedy that shaped him.
Who is Russell Westbrook’s friend Khelcey Barrs?
Those who saw Westbrook’s amazing 20-20-20 triple-double and the ensuing tribute to fallen rapper Nipsey Hussle know the 30-year-old has a sentimental connection to fallen friends and icons. Another case involves Khelcey Barrs, a basketball player at Leuzinger High School, where Westbrook attended.
In addition to fellow future NBA player Dorell Wright, Westbrook’s high school team involved Barrs. As the two competed together, they formed a bond that stretched off the court. At 6-foot-6 and 175 pounds, Barrs was a valuable addition to the team and a promising player for college scouts.
Unfortunately, Barrs’ life was cut short when he collapsed at Los Angeles Southwest College gymnasium (the team would go there to face older competition). His teammates recall thinking he was joking, as he had a knack for pranking them. Southwest’s coach performed CPR, but it was too late.
Barrs’ impact on Westbrook
Leaving early that day, Westbrook was not on the court when Barrs passed away. He’d already heard the news when the coaches came to tell him, and he seemed to be in catatonic shock. Many had hoped Westbrook and Barrs would win the state title together. He credits the tragedy with taking his determination to the next level. He eventually made it into UCLA to become one of the biggest stars in college basketball.
According to those connected with both Westbrook and Barrs, Westbrook sees his success not only as his own but as a way to make up for his friend’s lost potential. Every award and accolade isn’t just a win for him. Barrs’ death is what drives Westbrook to be the best player he can be.
Like Len Bias or Hank Gathers, Barrs represents the tragedy that comes when such a young, talented person passes away. We don’t know what would’ve happened to Barrs. Perhaps, he would have followed his friend to UCLA. Westbrook learned just how quickly things can change. It should come to no surprise he uses this to drive his entire career on and off the court.