Devin Booker and D’Angelo Russell first met as teenagers at the Nike Elite 100 camp in St. Louis for the top high school players in the country. Now in the NBA, they’re with the same agency (CAA), team up at NBA events (like All-Star Weekend this year) and travel together every offseason (like this past weekend to the popular Coachella music festival).
The close friends also have a connection through the Call of Duty video game, from playing online to this week participating in a Twitch livestream at Infinity Ward studios in Los Angeles for the new Infinite Warfare Continuum. It’s the second DLC Map Pack that features four new multiplayer maps and a zombies co-op experience called Shaolin Shuffle. While Booker was more of a “run-and-gun” player who got right in the action—he used to be in a clan years ago—Russell, a newer COD gamer, was more of a “camper,” staying in one spot to try and snipe other players.
Speaking with the NBPA, Booker and Russell talked about the different facets of their friendship on and off the court, as they’re both pushing each other to become the NBA’s next big stars.
NBPA: How special and interesting was today’s experience for you?
Devin Booker: I was looking forward to it. I’ve been a lifelong Call of Duty fan, so actually to be here at the IW studios for the first time, I was looking forward to getting a chance to play the new maps on the first day. I had never done a livestream before either, so that was interesting to me, and playing alongside one of my closest friends, D’Angelo.
D’Angelo Russell: It was cool, learning some stuff that I didn’t know. It was great—just the new maps and stuff.
NBPA: How did you first get into Call of Duty?
Booker: I started playing it because my brother, [Davon], played it. That was almost like seven, eight years ago. Now, I play Call of Duty a lot. I do love the new game—I’ve been playing Infinite Warfare, so I was just looking forward to the new maps today. With the livestream, we’ve played in front of a lot of people before [on the court], but I don’t think in front of this many people playing a video game.
Russell: I would say probably about two or three years. He kind of introduced the game to me.
NBPA: What are your favorite features of the game?
Booker: Just being a competitor honestly. I remember growing up, I used to have GameBattles teams. There used to be a website that you can get on and you can play competitively, and keep track of your record and where you stand in the world. So it was just playing with my friends. I remember after school, we felt like we’re all still together because we’re gaming together, have party chats, so everything about the game growing up I loved.
Russell: I’m a Team Deathmatch fan. I’m a “camper.” I try to camp and whatever crosses by my path, I try to take advantage of.
NBPA: Outside of NBA 2K and FIFA, why do you think Call of Duty is so popular among NBA guys as a non-sports game?
Booker: I know a lot of people play it. I love it personally. You get the chance to live that world without actually being there, so I enjoy that.
Russell: I just like how realistic Call of Duty is. It just gives you that rush.
NBPA: Do you play on the road during the season?
Booker: Actually it depends on the road trip. If I go on a long road trip, I’ll take the game with me. If it’s just one or two, I won’t. But everyday really, if I have any type of off-day or practice gets out early, then I’m playing the game with my brother and my friends.
Russell: I bought the travel kit. I play with some of my teammates. They all bring theirs, I bring mine, and we just compete together. We play on the plane and at the hotel.
NBPA: How big of a bonding thing is it among your teammates?
Booker: It is. We have our select few that actually play—usually the younger crowd. Actually my teammate Ronnie Price, who’s been in the league for 12 years, still talks about Call of Duty with me. So it’s a way to still interact with each other, doing something outside of basketball. So anytime we get our minds off the court, I think Call of Duty is a great way to do it.
Russell: It’s just being able to compete in something different besides your profession, and I would say getting that chemistry, too.
NBPA: Who’s your toughest competitor on your team?
Booker: I wouldn’t say anybody on the Suns, but I’ve played against Ben Simmons a lot. We play together and he’s actually a gamer, too, so he’s pretty good at Call of Duty.
Russell: Larry Nance Jr. He’s really good.
NBPA: How about for you two? Do you play online against each other during the season?
Booker: Yeah, I have. After he got the game, he was, like, “Do you play Call of Duty?” And I was, like, “Yeah, I’ve been playing for like five, six years.” So we met up on there and played multiplayer online. And he’s getting better, not quite there yet, a little bit more experience he’s going there. But we play together a lot.
Russell: Yeah, we’re around each other a lot, so that’s just one of the ways I would say we hang out.
NBPA: How is it when you go head-to-head in the game? Is it intense with trash talking?
Booker: A little bit of both. I think we’re in the position we are in the NBA right now because we’re competitors and it’s not just in basketball—it’s in everything we do. So we both take pride in everything we do with video games being one of them. So we get a little intense.
Russell: He’s way better than me. I’m still learning. That’s the excuse I’m going to go with.
NBPA: On the court, what are those matchups like?
Booker: It’s been great. We’ve been competing against each other for so long in camps and things like that. It’s just being in similar positions—just always getting to compete against each other and be good friends. And I can see him living out his dream and I’m living out my mine—truly a great opportunity for us. So everyday we talk during the season, but when we get in between those lines, we’re ultra competitors.
Russell: Good. We’re trying to compete as much as we can, and whoever wins, we’re kind of talking trash a little bit to the next time and so on.
NBPA: Do you catch up before a game, like for dinner?
Booker: Yeah, we have a couple times. Sometimes we’re coming off a back-to-back, so we just go to sleep. But they get in [to Phoenix] around Noon, and we’ll link up for dinners. We don’t usually talk before the game. We’ll talk after the game in the tunnel, but I keep up with all his games throughout the year and he does the same for me. So it’s a relationship that has been building for a long time, and it’s much bigger than basketball with us.
Russell: We compete at everything. So before the game, we just kind of keep it professional.
NBPA: How do you enjoy your time together in the offseason?
Booker: We like to travel. We’re currently setting up a few vacations right now. We just left Coachella together. Last year, we went to Cancun together, so my brother, his brothers, [Antonio and LaShawn], we’re all friends with each other also. So I’ve got to say it’s bigger than basketball with us. We’re both trying to be great and we’re going to help each other out in each step of the way.
Russell: Competing. We played against each other at the Nike Elite 100 camp, we both got connected and just kept in touch from that point.
NBPA: How was Coachella?
Booker: It was great. It was my first time out there. It was a lot to do. I figured out you can’t make everything, so next year I’ll be more ready.
Russell: It was cool. We had a lot of fun. The weather was nice. It was a little small vacation I guess.
NBPA: What musical show topped the weekend for you?
Booker: I’d say Travis Scott the first night. He’s a great performer. I was looking forward to seeing Kendrick [Lamar]. Obviously Kendrick did his thing, everybody did their thing, but Travis Scott was one that most surprised me. He’s a great performer, especially for an environment like that.
Russell: There was so much walking around. I didn’t really pay attention to the shows. I would say Kendrick’s show was really good.
NBPA: Overall, how would you recap the season?
Booker: It was a rollercoaster honestly, a lot of ups and downs. Obviously we didn’t win as much as we wanted to and the playoffs was our main goal, and we fell short of that. But we have a young core that I think is going to be really special. And towards the end of the season, we all got a chance to play together and just figuring out our chemistry amongst each other. So each and every day, I think we’re getting better.
This summer is going to tell a lot about us—who’s been in the gym. And I think it’s my goal now to make sure everybody’s in the gym and getting together, and kind of developing that chemistry off the court that was good during the season. I know we have a lot good veterans, but I feel like the leader of our young group.
Russell: It was up and down. We could’ve done better, but it will help prepare us going into the next season. So we can’t really complain.
NBPA: Where do you think you made the biggest impact on offense and defense?
Booker: Offense, I just felt scoring the ball. When I first got to the league, mostly everybody just thought I was a shooter, so it was just being able to show I can score at all levels. Defensively, I’m still working. This year, I had a better idea of players and their tendencies, but that’s still coming along. I’m still watching film on people and trying to develop each and every day.
Russell: Offensively, it was better for me. I feel like I had the most improvement there in just adding to my game. Defense, it’s just competing on that end and trying to win that battle against the next guard I was playing against.
NBPA: What’s your focus this summer to prepare for next season?
Booker: Just winning—that’s my goal for next year. I’m not in the playoffs; I’m not feeling too good. That’s where I’m trying to go. And this summer, it’s just to get better, get together with all our young guys and develop the chemistry, because we can’t use the excuse we’re too young anymore. We’re trying to be ready to go. With me, I’ve never set myself into one thing I want to work on. Obviously I’m targeting my body this summer—working on my body, eating right, staying in the gym. But overall, I have everything to work on. I never say I’ve mastered one thing.
Russell: I’ll be everywhere. I’ll be traveling a lot. I would say I’ll try to add a little bit to my offensive game every chance I can get in the gym.
NBPA: What’s one quality about each other that you try to take to your own life?
Booker: D’Angelo, he’s always been different and he’s never been scared to be different, and we’ve talked about it. He’s just being himself. So no matter what anybody thinks about him, he’s always going to be himself. And everybody around us accepts him for that, and I really appreciate him. It takes a tough person to, no matter what people think about you, still be yourself, still wear what you want to wear, still do the things you want to do.
Russell: Nothing. He’s a special player.