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Russell Westbrook’s dedication to Nipsey Hussle shows how grief connects us

Russell Westbrook’s brilliant performance in honor of Nipsey Hussle reminded us how interconnected our lives are.

On Tuesday night, Russell Westbrook became the second player in NBA history to achieve a triple-double with 20 or more points, rebounds, and assists. After he grabbed his 20th rebound in the waning seconds against the Lakers, he pounded his chest and yelled, “That’s for Nipsey.”

Nipsey Hussle — grammy-nominated rapper, entrepreneur, community activist, motivational figure, father, and friend to so many people, of big and small stature — was shot and killed last Sunday in front of his apparel store in Los Angeles. His death plunged many in the black community into grief. Hussle was a shining light. He not only preached, but actively worked to empower people in his community. Hussle was also a fan of the NBA and was beloved in the community. Many NBA players openly mourned his death.

Hussle and Westbrook were friends. Both are California natives — Westbrook from Long Beach, and Hussle from the Crenshaw neighborhood in South Los Angeles. In 2016, Hussle and Westbrook served thanksgiving food together to underprivileged children through Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation. The year after, Westbrook was present to celebrate the opening of Hussle’s apparel store.

After practice Tuesday, Westbrook was asked about the death of his friend. He refused to answer and instead walked away from the interview. He then arrived to the arena wearing a blue shirt that said “Crenshaw,” and in his post-game interview, he said, “That wasn’t for me. That was for my bro. That was for Nipsey. 20 plus 20 plus 20. They know what that means.” The statement was a reference to the Rollin 60’s Neighborhood Crips — the gang that Hussle was affiliated with, but later distanced himself from.

There’s little that can be said or done to soothe grief or properly remember the lives of the deceased. All the words and actions of honoring the memory of someone like Hussle pale in comparison to his living presence. It’s heartbreaking to think that he is no longer alive, and the memories and stories of the things that he did, the people who he was kind to, and how beloved he was, only makes the death even more painful. Carrying his ideas of kindness and empowerment forward is the least that can be done.

But what Westbrook’s dedication to Hussle shows, as well as the mourning of so many people in the NBA and beyond, is how much one person can mean to so many. If there’s any consolation in death, and there’s only so much, it’s that Hussle’s death has shown the expansive impact that one unfortunately short life can have.

The impact of Hussle’s death among NBA players is a reminder that a lot of those players came from the same conditions that he did. His music and message resonated with them because they believed in the same ideals and knew the life that he talked about. An event like this proves that to understand sports, you have to first understand that so much of what motivates and shapes players, why they are the way they are, goes way beyond what happens on the court.

Westbrook and Hussle related, not just because they were both celebrities from the same area, but because they dealt with and escaped the same social conditions, one through music and the other through basketball. The reason that hip-hop is so intertwined with the NBA is because those players and artists are only separated by their jobs. They know each other and each other’s lives. By rapping about his personal experiences and his ambitions, Hussle was echoing the same struggles, achievements, hopes, and plans of someone like Westbrook.

In the same post-game interview, Westbrook also said:

“It’s somebody that I looked up to, somebody that paved the way for guys like myself growing up in the inner city. I am truly saddened by the situation. I continue to pray for his family, his wife, his daughter and just continue to live on his legacy the right way and be positive in the community.”

It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but the death of someone like Hussle proves how connected so much of the world really is. Through Hussle’s life and the grief over the loss of it, we see a diverse cast of people brought closer. Westbrook is part of that.

The world of one of the best basketball players in the world can seem distant from the lives of ordinary people, but in his dedication to his friend, through the connective nature of grief, he showed that he shares a similar pain to the rest of us who admired and appreciated Hussle.

It won’t do much to make the pain of loss any easier, but it helps us understand the world and each other more.