Keeping Score

Sally Jessy Raphael to Russell Westbrook: Beware of the Red Glasses

TIME talks to Sally Jessy Raphael about the Thunder point guard, who's been wearing some familiar specs lately

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From left: AP; Getty Images

From left, the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook and talk show host Sally Jesse Raphael each wearing distinctive red glasses.

The sartorial stylings of NBA players have received lots of attention of late, and Russell Westbrook is setting new standards. After Oklahoma City’s 105-94 Game 1 win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals Tuesday night, the Thunder point guard again wore a loud shirt and bright red glasses, with no lenses, to the post-game press conference. When Westbrook wore the red glasses after a playoff game in May, a headline on noted that “Russell Westbrook Borrowed Sally Jessy Raphael’s Red Glasses after Pummeling the Lakers.”

In fact, the 1990s talk-show host is enjoying a bit of an Internet revival, thanks to Westbrook’s eyewear. “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Someone please take those Sally Jessy Raphael glasses from Russell Westbrook!” wrote @mclaw3 on Twitter. A Google search of “Russell Westbrook” and “Sally Jessy Raphael” returns 284,000 results. Charles Barkley and Jeff Van Gundy have donned the red glasses, in (mock?) honor of Westbrook, and by extension, Sally

So, we wondered, what does Sally Jessy Raphael think of all these Internet shout-outs?  We reached her Tuesday at her Dutchess County, N.Y. home: Raphael, 77, had no clue who Russell Westbrook was, or that basketball fans were invoking her name across the web. But she issued Westbrook a warning. “The basketball player better be careful,” Rafael told Keeping Score.

(MORE: NBA Nerd Alert)

What, she’s going to sue Westbrook for stealing her look? No, it’s not that. If Westbrook takes his fashion statement too far, Raphael says, it’s going to cause him headaches. Raphael started wearing the red glasses in 1982, because she needed help reading the teleprompter, and bought the cheapest pair she could find in a discount store. They happened to be red, and soon, they were a signature. “When you become known for the cigar in your mouth, like comedians do, or glasses, or pink hair, or whatever it is, if it’s an external thing, it begins to own you,” Raphael says. These days, Raphael doesn’t wear the red rims while doing basic errands, and she gets badgered about it. “If I go out to a mall where I live now, and anybody recognizes me, they say, ‘oh, why don’t you have your red glasses?” says Raphael. “Like I’m doing something illegal.”

Just last week, someone stopped Raphael at the Phoenix airport. “People really get insistent,” she says. “A woman goes, ‘Oh, darling, would you take a picture with my mother?’ She loves you. Of course, I’m on my way to the plane and I know I’m going to miss it. But I have to stop and I stand there. And she says, “Oh, don’t you have your red glasses?'” When Raphael told the woman she doesn’t carry them in her pocket, to be whipped out in an airport at a moment’s notice, her mother lost a little love for Sally. “OK, maybe we’ll get a picture some other time,” the woman told Raphael, as if there was any chance she’d randomly bump into Sally Jessy Raphael again.

“I thought, ‘can’t you draw them in?'” Raphael says. “What about Photoshop, lady?”

Being hectored is just one problem. You thought competing against Oprah was tough? Try doing it in red glasses. “People swipe them,” Raphael says. “If I was at a restaurant and was wearing the darn things, and put them down and went to the ladies room, they’d be gone. And I really need glasses to see.”

“So you tell your basketball player, a), be careful of what he’s doing, and b), be careful of thieves. This guy better watch it.”

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