It’s hard to imagine Russell Westbrook’s game without the dunking. It’s his finishing move, like when you unlock your characters’s gruesome finisher in Mortal Combat. There’s a violence to his dunks, as if the rim once spoke ill of Westbrook’s mother and he’s never going to let it go. He’s thrown down 26 dunks his season, each one with its own brand of ferocity.
Westbrook without his dunks would be another player entirely, a softer, gentler version of a very good player. You might be surprised to learn, then, that’s Westbrook’s signature finishing move did not develop until he was a senior in high school.
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Westbrook was a miniature at Leuzinger High School (Lawndale, California), the shortest kid on his squad until a sudden growth spurt elevated him from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-3, according to a recent profile in the New York Times.
Westbrook’s size dictated his game as a series of driving layups until his senior season, when his growth spurt shot him into another dimension. Westbrook never looked back after his first dunk, taking his newfound love of jamming to UCLA and then on to Oklahoma City.
It’s remarkable to look at Westbrook’s physique in his early high school years, then witness him during his senior season. It’s like looking at two completely different people. The phrase “better late than never,” though incredibly cliché, feels like it was invented for people like Westbrook.