Russell Westbrook is a generational talent, an all-time great at what he does, a tenacious point guard, an electrifying player, a wonderful individual off the court, and a valiant, brave human being.
A former Most Valuable Player, nine-time all-star, and a Triple-Double God, Westbrook has definitely etched his name in the annals of basketball with ludicrous numbers and unmatched intensity on a seemingly nightly basis.
Having eye-popping numbers including three straight Trip-Dub seasons in his last years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, slanders and/or constructive assessments have been thrown on Westbrook’s way for the most part of his career as modern analytics and his not-so-ample playoff success as the focal point of a team hampered his legacy in degrees subjective to any other NBA fan.
Russ, though, appeared to have a fixed mind into everything basketball, saying in a calm February 2019 afternoon media session: “I’ve been blessed with the talent to not give a fuck.”
The Los Angeles native continued, “Regardless of what happens, it doesn’t change the way I live, what I think. I have an unbelievable family. Great friends. An unbelievable life. Unbelievable job. I make a lot of money at my job. I’m extremely blessed, thankful, humble. I haven’t been in trouble. I don’t cause no problems. I’m perfectly fine. I’m living my best life and I can’t complain one bit. He say, she say, what somebody says about shooting, passing, dribbling, every year it’s something … they’ve got to make up something about me, which is fine, it’s good. One thing I always know is if they’re not talking about you you’re doing something right.”
In hindsight, this comes as an empowering quote from someone who overcame the cruel nature of poverty but be that as it may, this screams a résumé-altering statement from a player that has played alongside a plethora of hall of farmers alike throughout his NBA tenure without attaining any physical concession as a team through it.
From a basketball standpoint, Russ not giving a damn has done him more harm than good.
Fast forward to the COVID-ravaged 2021, Westbrook dropped 35 points, 14 rebounds, and 21 assists in the Washington Wizards win over the Indiana Pacers to establish a new Wizards franchise triple-double record. It was a performance that drew oohs and aahs from the streets of social media.
But not with one man, a man that happens to be the reportedly highest-paid television analyst in the world of sports journalism — the always flamboyant, extremely entertaining, and tremendously brilliant ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.
In his daily sports rant at ESPN’s First Take, Stephen A. downgraded Westbrook’s numbers stating that it “means absolutely nothing” before lamenting on the former MVP’s lackluster playoff track record, his current team’s mediocre record, and his lack of a championship ring. If taken out of context, this frames to be like any other Westbrook slander that only pops up once in your timeline, however, this strong affirmation felt more like a reality check.
“The numbers are the numbers, that’s Russell Westbrook. He can do that to anybody but I’m at a point in time that in his career where it’s like ‘it ain’t about that no more’, it’s about whether or not you can get to another level to win the chip.”
You see, the absurd stat line resulted in only the Wizards’ 17th win in their 45th game of the season. As of writing, Washington’s win-loss card with a Westbrook triple-double stands at 8–10, a massive contrast from his time with the Thunder when he managed to eke out a .752 win percentage when he tallied double digits in all of the three most significant individual statistics.
It may be attributed to the team’s structural failures, and coaching incompetence but the fact that Westbrook is playing alongside the league-leading scorer Bradley Beal and the Wizards are multiple games behind a play-in spot with a middling 17–30 record sounds as absurd to me as his own stat lines.
Yet, he insists that he’s a “champion because he’s in the NBA.”
I know Westbrook is more than just a basketball guy, but participation championships in the NBA are smokes and mirrors.
“A championship don’t change my life. I’m happy,” sounds more like he’s only playing to score double-digits, grab double-digit boards, and have double-digit dish outs.
Players play to win, and by winning, I mean going to the promise land and winning a title.
Stephen A. couldn’t have put this any better when he rebutted Russell’s response at First Take: “You’re great, you’re so great we want to see more, when it matters.”
Westbrook plays all-out basketball every day of the week, and he deserves to win a ring more than anyone else in the NBA today.
But at the end of the day, Westbrook doesn’t care, a notion that may bite him back come the twilight of his legacy.