Early riser/late bloomer

Westbrook is first at legitimately everything. Photo illustration by Matthias Clamer/ESPN The Magazine

This story appears in the April 5 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

The clock inside the Oklahoma City Thunder practice facility reads 8 a.m. when Russell Westbrook pulls into the parking lot, backs his salt-stained Range Rover into a spot right next to the entrance and hops out. He's a full 30 minutes early for his appointment. The next player won't arrive for another hour. And the team practice is two hours away. But Westbrook immediately peers through the glass doors and grimaces. The guy he's meeting showed up first.

For most of his life, no one has ever put him first. Not the elite AAU teams. Not the prestigious high school all-star games. Not the major college programs. And, except for the Thunder, not the NBA. So he put himself there. By showing up early to everything and being willing to do whatever, whenever -- toe raises in the shower, shagging balls in high school, changing positions in college, running in place in a playground sandbox -- for a chance. And by listening only to those who believed, as he did, that he could be first. Even though, for a long time, that limited the voices to his high school coach and his parents.

"You must've slept here," he says to the visitor who arrived ahead of him. Then he walks over to the team's breakfast bar and orders. First.