You heard the question. You saw Russell Westbrook’s face, and his smile. You heard the laughter.
What you never knew was the young man who tried to ask what became the most famous question in this NBA season.
You never heard what Westbrook told the young man later.
Last September, during the Oklahoma City Thunder’s media day, Westbrook was asked the following: “Uhhm Russ you’ve had ... uhhmm ... multiple people, multiple players come out ... I’m sorry, I’m so nervous, let me come back.”
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Watching and listening to the video and audio is considerably more painful than reading it.
Westbrook shot a smile that made you think he won the NBA title.
In a matter of minutes, their exchange carried live on NBATV went viral. Like "kitten rides a dog" viral.
When LeBron James put the clip on his Twitter account, forget it.
The guy who struggled to ask the question was 20-year-old TCU student Trent Attyah, who turned this embarrassing flub into a lifetime positive experience. The experience was positive, in large part, because of a man whose relationship with the media is known to be negative: Westbrook.
Westbook and the Thunder will play the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night at the AAC.
Thunder media day was Attyah's first experience as a member of the media in that setting. He had never been around the pro athlete/media experience.
He readily admits he’s a diehard Thunder fan, and had recently been hired by Thunder Digest as a contributor.
He begged his TCU teachers to let him take a test later to attend media day. Wearing a suit and tie, he drove three hours from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.
When Westbrook came to the podium in the news conference, this was Attyah's chance to ask his favorite player a question. Immediately he had butterflies in his stomach, but he knew he would regret if he didn’t talk to Russ.
Rather than rely on a notebook with the written question, he rehearsed it in his head so when he was handed the microphone he would stick the landing.
Attyah's wanted to ask Westbrook this: “When you and [teammate] Carmelo Anthony trained together in the summers, did you ever talk about becoming teammates the next season?”
A legit question.
No NBA expert, or pundit, had remotely pondered a scenario where the Thunder would acquire the then New York Knicks power forward.
“The guy handed me the microphone and Russell is staring into my soul,” Attyah said. “In that moment, this is my idol right in front of me, my brain just turned off. What came out of my mouth was nowhere close to what I was going to say. I didn’t mean to say, ‘I’m so nervous.’”
Attyah spoke at his high school graduation in Newport, Calif., so he's had experience speaking before an audience.
He just had never spoken to a crowd quite like this.
So rather than ask that question, Attyah dribbled the ball off his foot.
Westbrook broke out in sincere laughter and a wide smile. The reporters in the room nervously laughed.
Westbrook didn’t crush him.
The internet broke.
During the news conference, Attyah checked Instagram where the exchange was growing in popularity. At that moment, it was 1.1 million views. Millions more have seen it since.
Attyah is never visible in the clip. No one knew he was a rookie in his first media game. Or that he was 20.
Eventually, Thunder center Steven Adams came to the podium and Attyah was handed the mic one more time. He desperately wanted another shot.
He asked Adams about the departure of Thunder teammate Enes Kanter to the Knicks, which the good natured New Zealander quipped, “He’s not dead, mate.”
When the news conferences finished, Attyah and the rest of the media were ushered to the floor of Chesapeake Arena where the players were taking pictures.
Members of the media approached Thunder play-by-play announcer Brian Davis to encourage the youngster.
“You know, if I was in your position, when you messed up that question I would have run straight to the bathroom and thrown up,” Davis told him. “But you had the courage to raise your hand for another question. That’s what you should be proud of.”
Amen. Davis is right – we have all done this.
A few minutes later, Attyah had his moment.
“Someone grabs me on the shoulder and turns me around, and it’s Russell Westbrook and ‘Melo in their jerseys,” Attyah said. “It looked fake.
“And Westbrook said, ‘Hey, man, what happened in there – don’t worry about it. It happens to all of us. If I said I didn’t [bleep] up in my career, I would be lying. Just remember, everyone in there had gray hair and you’re 20 years old.”
This time, Attyah nailed the landing, “Thank you so much.”
Since then, Attyah is now known as the “Nervous Westbrook guy.”
He used that moniker as a sign to attract the College GameDay cameras when it came to TCU in the fall. His girlfriend painted those words on a cooler she gave him as a gift.
You saw Westbrook’s smile. You heard Westbrook’s laugh.