When we all die and go to basketball heaven, the keeper at the gate (who is probably a quiet, unassuming big man who used to play for the San Antonio Spurs) will ask us one question before letting us in:
Did you love Russell Westbrook?
The answer to this question will be an indicator of the pureness of our basketball soul, and will determine how much we really care about the game. It will be the central point from which we will all be judged as basketball fans.
That’s how crazy all this talk on Westbrook’s back-to-back triple double seasons has become: Tell me your Westbrook take and I’ll tell you who you are.
The line in the sand has been drawn; either you’re rallying behind Westbrook in his pursuit for basketball immortality or calling him out for basically cheating his way into the history books.
For the haters, there’s tons of material: He pads stats. He steals rebounds. He boxes out his own teammates. He only passes if it’s a sure assist.
Westbrook’s villainous attitude towards the media when asked about his triple doubles certainly doesn’t help, and his quotes won’t make it into any inspirational memes that have filtered photos of the sunset.
“Since everybody wants to be talking, I’m tired of hearing the same old rebound this, stealing rebounds, all this shit. I take pride in what I do,” Westbrook said.
Westbrook is petty, confident, and shameless (and also an annoying style icon)—attributes that make him an easy target for criticism. LeBron James is petty, but at least his passive aggressiveness is relatable. Kevin Durant is confident, but his smoothness dilutes it. Steph Curry is shameless, but he smiles.
Westbrook is Westbrook through and through. He is unrelenting and blatant in being himself, trying to get what he wants, whatever it takes. You know why Westbrook is a triple double beast? Because he can be. And that’s a grave violation that allows the fun police to step in.
For those who root for him and everything he stands for, the supply of reasons is equally stacked. First, they’d start with the numbers, because that’s the best place to start. Last season, when he was named MVP, these were his per game averages: 31.6 points (league leader), 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists. His per game averages this season: 25.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 10.3 assists (league leader). In these two post-Durant campaigns, Westbrook managed to keep his Oklahoma City Thunder afloat.
No other player in NBA history has ever averaged a triple double in more than one season, let alone back-to-back seasons. Can someone else accomplish this feat in the near future? Will Ben Simmons, who averaged 16-8-8 as a rookie, have that same drive? What separates Westbrook from the pack is that he plays with the tenacity of a horny teenager discovering the joys of his penis for the first time. Yup, he’s that offensive.
In the end, we will all be judged by how entertained we are after Westbrook’s chasing greatness/stat-padding, regardless of whether you love him or hate him.
There might be some purists who wish that Westbrook simply behaved and played the game the right way. There’s a special place in basketball hell for people like that.
Photos from NBA.com