Superstars are who they are. They are greats at a craft where many others wish they had the talent and the physical tools to do the same. I wish I could dunk a ball (it honestly doesn’t even have to be a basketball — I would be ecstatic by dunking a golf ball on a 10-foot goal) like Vince Carter or Russell Westbrook, but my 5’9″ hefty physique won’t allow my breakup with gravity to occur.
And so we follow those who do things we could only wish we could do. Some people love the rockstar who can bellow out our favorite songs in front of 100,000 screaming fans. Some are enamored by the person who takes on different personas on the movie screen to the point where they will watch every movie the thespian is in, regardless of whether it’s good or not (I’m looking at you Will Smith in After Earth).
We place these people on pedestals just for having that one singular talent that leaves us awestruck. In that elevation, we sometimes forget that these superstars are actual people with flaws, fears, and shortcomings. For some reason, though, many of us look past those human faults to maintain the mystique.
For example, take Russell Westbrook. The triple-double king is a basketball highlight waiting to happen. He’s been to the NBA Finals, multiple All-Star games, and has a league MVP in his trophy case. He’s at the top of his profession, but he has his faults. He’s a hothead who treats the media, mostly, as an adversary instead of an ally. Catch him on a good day and you may get a quote of interest. Catch him on a bad day, and, again, you may get a quote of interest….but of a negative nature.
There is one thing you can take from Westbrook, though, and that’s consistency. He’s the same today as he was as a rookie. A lot of that consistency has to do with the stability around him. The one thing I’ve always noticed about Westbrook is that he has kept his circle extremely small — family and a very small pool of friends. The same people that were around Westbrook ten years ago are the same people that are around him today, save for son Noah and some unborn twin girls.
Superstars have never really interested me because they’re usually all the same. They are great at what they do, they love the adulation that comes with it, but abhor the necessity of maintaining their brand. But what really grabs my attention is the people around the superstar. Their family to a degree, but especially their true friends. To all of us, Westbrook is some form of basketball god. But to Demetrius “Comedian Juice” Deason, Westbrook is simply “Egghead”.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Juice ahead of his October 26 “Why Not?” Comedy Show in Oklahoma City. During the interview, we talked about his journey from college basketball player to life as a comedian. We also discussed life in Los Angeles and his history with Westbrook.
The genesis of the Juice/Westbrook relationship began where most true friendships begin: in middle school. That same pool of friends that Westbrook has always been around (Juice, Donnell Beverly, Mimms, Steve-O, Noah Raja) all had their beginning on the basketball courts of Bud Carson Middle School in Hawthorne, California.
Middle school, as usually is the case, morphed into high school, where Westbrook led the squad at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, California. There is where the fire we see Westbrook play with was forged. When I asked Juice about Westbrook’s mentality on the court, he basically said Westbrook has always been this way.
Always. Always. Russ has always been competitive. Always super energetic. He wants to win. The mentality of ‘us against the world’ came from our high school coach at Leuzinger, who made some shirts for us in the 9th grade with the slogan ‘It’s personal.’ So when we played, we always thought it was personal. We always stuck with each other. When we went on the road, if we saw someone that we played AAU with at a different school, we wasn’t allowed to go talk to them. Like if you wasn’t with us, we couldn’t talk to you in the game. We always moved together as a team, that’s why we’re so close. That’s why it’s a group of like four or five of us who are still close to this day. We’re going to stick together. We’re going to battle together. And afterwards, we’re gonna hang out and be family.
When asked about Westbrook’s competitive nature being misconstrued as hot-headedness, Juice had a pretty good story about that.
I remember in high school, my sophomore year, Russ was in 11th grade. We had a practice, where it was starters vs. the reserves. So every blue moon, our coach would mix it up. I was, of course, a starter. So, me and Russ was on the reserve team and we was playing against the rest of the starters. We were playing the first to five and I missed a lay-up for the game and they came back and won. I remember we went back to the locker room and everybody was talking about it and it was over with, and Russ was still upset. Like Russ was still mad. And I remember he changed his clothes in the locker room and stormed off and left, and didn’t talk to nobody. We all thought it was over with, but the next day, we all meet in the cafeteria for breakfast, and Russ was still mad. I’m like, ‘bro, it’s practice, bro. Why you still mad?’ And he was still mad. That’s when I knew he was different, mentality-wise.
I asked Juice about being friends with a superstar like Westbrook.
Having a friend like Russell is different. You’re able to experience things that are different. But at the end of the day, he’s a grown man. Even though he’s a superstar and he’s doing great things, I still have a life beside Russell. A lot of times, just letting people know that. ‘Oh, Russell lives here. Do you live there?’ Like, ‘No, I pay my own rent in my own apartment.’ People be thinking I live like Russ lives all the time, which is not the case. But it is fun. It comes with a lot of perks. You get to see how hard he really works. How much time and sweat and tears. How much he really sacrifices. Being his friend, a lot of times, he’s not able to come out with us and hang out. And so you get to see, ‘wow, this guy really works hard.’ I think that’s something not many people get to see. And also that he’s a good guy. He really do have a personality to him. He’s a good person. People think (the negative persona and the wild man on the court), he’s not like that all the time. He’s not actually 100, going crazy. He’s actually, off the court, the complete opposite to how he is on the court. He normal. He gets triple-doubles all the time, but he’s normal.
Off the court, I asked Juice about Russell, the father.
Just being with Russ, I can tell he changed a lot with fatherhood. You can just tell he’s a great dad. He makes sure he’s around as much as he can. He makes sure he’s there in Noah’s life on the regular. He’s a great father. He’s a great husband. A great friend. Obviously, he’s a great player. Hopefully going into his third year averaging a triple-double, which I don’t want to put that out there, but I expect him to do it. Overall, Russell is one of those people who succeeds in everything he does and fatherhood was no different. And now that he’s having twins, he’s going to be a great dad with three kids.
A wise person once told me, “show me a person’s friends, and I’ll tell you where that person is heading.” Everybody can see Westbrook, but what most people can’t see is the friends that make up the man. For the most part, we can’t choose our family. But we can choose our friends. And that’s a conscious effort to surround ourselves with people of our liking.
Juice expounded a lot on Westbrook, but, in many ways, you can tell they are both cut from the same cloth. That grind, that hustle we love about Westbrook? It was on full display with Juice. Look at all the media he’s done over the past week — meeting with every TV station in OKC, every podcaster available in OKC, all to promote his event. There’s a hunger there. This isn’t a man looking to ride the coattails of his famous best friend. This is a man applying the same principles to his life as Westbrook did to his basketball career. All the meanwhile, he’s looking to help children while he’s doing it.
So go out and support a good cause by attending the Why Not? Comedy Show on Friday, October 26 at Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City. Joining Juice will be comedians Ron Taylor, B.T. Kingsley, Yasamin Bayatfar (of Tulsa), and headliner Gary Owens. The event will benefit 180 kids by feeding them for an entire year through the backpack program of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. This is made possible through Juice’s charitable organization LayUps2StandUp.
For more from my interview with Juice, visit here.