Outside the NBA Bubble: Nina Westbrook Reveals Her Trick For Staying Close With Husband Russell Westbrook

With husband Russell Westbrook away, Nina Westbrook is left to play zone with their three kids and find time to get work done. In an exclusive interview with E! News, she shares her game plan.

By Amanda Williams, Sarah Grossbart Aug 18, 2020 7:00 PMTags
Watch: 5 Things to Know About the NBA Bubble

With the COVID-19 pandemic changing how we do, well, everything, the NBA was forced to come up with a new game plan to finish their 2019-2020 season.

The solution—the much-discussed bubble—saw some 300 players from the league's top 22 teams sequestered in one of three Disney World resorts for up to three months as they strive to be crowned champions of this long, strange season.

But what about the those on the outside feeling as if their bubble had burst? With their partners locked down in Florida, scores of women have been left to navigate work responsibilities, bedtime routines, middle-of-the-night feedings, meal prep and, in some cases, even childbirth without their teammate. And now they're speaking exclusively with E! News about that new normal. These are their basketball diaries.

Admittedly, Nina Westbrook wasn't instantly game. 

When she learned husband Russell Westbrook and the rest of his Houston Rockets teammates would have the chance to finish off their quest for an NBA championship in Orlando, "I was happy that the guys were going to be able to get back to their outlet," she told E! News in an Aug. 11 interview. 


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"Well, honestly it was not exciting to me," she conceded of facing the prospect of up to three months playing zone with their kids without her husband around. "I did not think that it sounded appealing whatsoever."

Which was understandable, considering her roster of responsibilities includes tending to her clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, running her newly launched clothing line Minibrook, managing the charity work involved with her and Russell's Why Not? Foundation and the National Basketball Wives Association, and raising 3-year-old son Noah Westbrook and 21-month-old twin daughters Jordyn Westbrook and Skye Westbrook.

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Her issues, the 31-year-old continued, were "mainly just because my kids are so young and the prospect of their dad being gone for so long, like that's a huge chunk of their lives when you really put things into perspective." But more than a decade into their romance—the two meeting when they were standouts on the men's and women's squads at UCLA—she knows her partner. And as much as the nine-time NBA All-Star loves his home team, she realizes the 6-foot-3 athlete, 31, belongs on the court. "He was definitely happy and excited to go back to playing basketball with his teammates and so I was happy," she said. "It was a bittersweet moment."

Thankfully, she came up with some winning strategies to get by. 

Stick to a game plan.

With three toddlers running around her California home, "We're constantly doing things," Nina shared. "I just want them to have a good time and have fun but I also want them to be stimulated and, like, learn." So their days are a mix of swimming lessons, arts and crafts and plenty of running around. "We love playing outside," she continued, so they've made use of Cali's pleasant climes by frequently dining al fresco "and making little outdoor dining situations in the backyard."

Under more normal circumstances, Noah would be gearing up for preschool, so he works with a tutor throughout the week and gleans some extra teaching from Mom. "We're trying to figure out different ways to incorporate homework and fun and play, and learning and all of those things," she explained of her dual role as educator and parent. "That's important."

Establish a squad.

Nina's is comprised of her mom Jennifer Lyons, Russell's mom Shannon Westbrook and their combined four brothers. "We have been blessed to have our family around to be able to help," she noted. "They support and they kind of just try to pick up where things kind of have gotten a little slow with Russell being out." It's expert advice that she's passed along to her fellow NBA partners. "It's difficult to do things alone," she explained. "So I think it's important to accept that help and reach out when you need help and I think that's the biggest thing. Because we all need support."

Thankfully, she has a whole crew just a text message away through the National Basketball Wives Association. "It's a very unique situation that we've all found ourselves in," she said. "And so being able to kind of lean on each other for that support and gather and get together, and kind of just know that other people know what you're going through and they're kind of navigating and trying to figure their own ways as well, it's just helpful."

But while their husbands' careers are certainly unique, their everyday issues are fairly garden variety: "We're just trying to live our lives and take care of our families and follow our dreams and our passions just like everybody else. It just so happens our husbands are really great at what they do."

Rely on your MVP.

Though she could do without the three-hour time difference ("This morning my husband called me multiple times and he knows normally, don't always wake me up in the morning. So, I answer and I'm like 'What's going on? Is everything okay?' and he is like 'Yeah, I'm going to my game!'") Nina is grateful that her husband's presence is still felt at the kitchen table. Thanks to FaceTime, "We have been doing this thing where we have breakfast together," she explained. "And the kids love that, and they like to feed him breakfast through the phone and all of this stuff. It's so weird but it's what our life has been like for the past however many weeks."

In fact, more often than not, Russell is dialing in to be part of family time. "He's very much so a FaceTime person," Nina said of the 2017 NBA MVP. "He likes to FaceTime the kids and FaceTime me all day long, and that's kind of been a saving grace for us." The only slight glitch is that her kids perk up each time her cell phone rings. "My girls just light up, you know, on the phone whenever Dad calls," she said. "Whenever anybody is FaceTiming me, they automatically assume it's him and that's really cute."

Make time for business...

For Nina that means both her work as a licensed marriage and family therapist and also her newest baby: her kids' clothing line, Minibrook.  Inspired by her experiences shopping for her brood, "I wanted to create a line that was sustainable," she said. "I was buying so many clothes for the my kids, like, the girls I have to buy two of everything, I want to make sure I created a clothing that is so well-made, that it could be used over and over again for a long period of time."

The yearlong process leading up to the Aug. 1 launch was admittedly "very stressful," she shared, complicated further by coronavirus causing shutdowns in manufacturing in Los Angeles' factories. But now with everything up and running, "It gives me a creative outlet, a way to get out some of my creative energy," she said. "It's just been really fun for me."

...and pleasure

As a therapist, Nina is constantly stressing the need for self-care, a message she'd be well-served repeating into a mirror. "I think that I definitely would make a hard-headed client if I were on the other side," she admitted. "I'm not really great with self-care, but I'm a such a huge self-care advocate."

So she's made it a point to indulge her myriad hobbies. "I spend a lot of time doing things that make me happy," she shared. "I've taken up photography. I've started teaching myself how to play piano." And she's scheduled in pockets of alone time whenever possible. "Sometimes it just means I'm going to go out and just run and get coffee and just spend time by myself," she said. Or she makes it a movie night. "I don't know why I've ever stopped watching movies, I've been watching so many movies this past week," she said. "That's the newest thing and it just, it makes me happy. It could be something very small but I think it makes a big difference in the grand scheme of things."

Embrace that sports are back.

As someone missing her favorite TV shows, Nina understands how refreshing it can feel to see your favorite stars battling it out on the court once again. "I feel like getting back to some type of normalcy is just going to be a little therapeutic for everybody," she explained. "So I think it's just a good fresh experience for everybody to get to watch sports again. Sports have always had a way of bringing people together."

While her girls are still a bit young to follow along, Noah is Dad's number one fan. "As far as game day," she said, "we try to let the kids watch as much as they'll care to watch."

And soon Dad will be back, too.

The process is undoubtedly tough as they wait for Russell to burst out of the bubble (preferably with his first NBA championship in hand). "I can tell they miss their dad, especially my son," Nina said. "He asks us about him quite a bit and wonders when he's coming home." To keep any sadness at bay, Nina creates activities that make them feel their dad's presence. 

"Literally this morning we just finished coloring, like, a million pictures, and we're going to send them to him so he can make like a little wall in his hotel room," she said. "It's an array of two 20-month-old's and a 3-year-old's artwork plastered all over." It will add to the other kid-friendly decor. "You know what's funny is my son's favorite characters are Buzz and Woody from Toy Story," she revealed. So it was fitting when Russell saw the theme in his particular Disney suite. "There was a Buzz and Woody on the bed," said Nina. "When he got there and showed Noah, Noah was so thrilled and excited. He's like, 'Oh, you get to sleep with Buzz and Woody, too!' So that's their thing now."

Those little moments help them get through some of the tougher ones, she allowed. "We just keep them busy," she said, "and we get to communicate as much as we can."