Russell Westbrook is The Brotha Who You Love to Hate
There are two types of people — Ones who think Russell Westbrook is showing the greatest display of professional basketball seen in modern NBA history, and those who for each of his daily achievements, have a reason for why it happened, why it shouldn’t have happened, how it would’ve or wouldn’t have happend in another era or against a different team. They bring up his teammates, his minutes, his touches, the temperature inside the arena, anything to explain the incredibly inflated stats by Westbrook. The same can be said for fans of the formative years of Hip Hop. There are people who embrace new Hip Hop artists and sounds while looking at it through a critical lens, while others think that everything in Hip Hop post 1996 was a classic, and everything after is complete garbage. Any way you slice it, there is one thing that most NBA fans can agree on. We never thought we’d see a player have an NBA season like the season that Russell Westbrook is having.
When it comes to those two types of people, I’m somewhere in the middle, and sometimes I’m closer to one side than the other. Throughout Russ’ career, which I’ve followed since UCLA, there are things about Russ I love, and things that irk the shit out of me. There’s times when he’s taking a terrible shot on multiple possessions, ball hogging, and turning the ball over on back to back plays, but what I, and everyone else loves about Russ is his grit and determination, which is damn near impossible to match with any other professional athlete, let alone NBA player. When watching him this particular season, just like Russ said admittedly, I got sick of hearing about the triple double talk. When he’d have those ballooned stats of 50 points, I’d talk about his field goal percentage. “Anyone can score 50 points if they shoot the ball 35 times!” When he’d get over 15 assist, it was “well, he handles the ball every time down the floor, so he SHOULD get 15 assists”. I still stand by those claims to an extent. Dan LeBatard from ESPN had a great comment — “Is Russell Westbrook actually better this year than years prior?”, which is a subtle mention to Westbrook carrying the weight of former teammate Kevin Durant. Another valid point.
I think of the current NBA landscape similarly to my views on Hip Hop — There are many things I like, and there are many things I don’t like, most of which make me long for the glory days of the early-mid 90s. Nothing can replace the association I have with some of my all time favorite early-mid 90s Hip Hop songs and artists, but that love and devotion I have for my formative years doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate newer artists, styles and trends, just like enjoying contemporary Hip Hop doesn’t take away the fond memories I have with the songs and artists who raised me to become the person I am today. For the past 15 years, we’ve heard every variety of the Kobe vs. LeBron vs. Jordan arguments at length, multiple times, and because the argument is usually rooted in fandom, they usually get heated. My facetious response is “Did you know it is possible to like Kobe, Jordan, and LeBron all at the same time?” It’s how I feel about 90’s Hip Hop and Hip Hop music of today, and it’s how I feel about Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson. When it comes to Hip Hop, I never want to be the person to sour on new ideas, styles, and formats just because I’m used to seeing it done a certain way, especially when the newer way is done with as much passion, attention to detail, and determination as those who helped pave the way . With that philosophy in mind, I have to embrace the playing style, thus the season of Russell Westbrook, who is currently writing his own legacy towards greatness.
When all things are considered, this is where I have to stand my ground. Kansas City Royals point guard Oscar Robertson averaging a triple double for the entire 1961–62 season was one of the most Wayne Gretzky-est things in basketball, mentioned right next to Wilt’s 100 point game. When thinking about that feat throughout my life as an NBA fan, I thought of Robertson as the most well-rounded players to ever step foot on the court. I didn’t think of the Kansas City Royals record during that season, or where they placed. I still don’t know, nor do I care to. I thought of a player that did it all and had the stats to prove it. This was a season was like no other. In more than 40 years, in a game that seems to reinvent itself every half decade, we’ve never seen anyone else do it, until Russell Westbrook in 2016–17. Few would call Westbrook the best player in the NBA. Even the MVP race is up for debate. Oklahoma City is far from the NBA’s best team, and absolutely no one is picking them to win it all, but Russell Westbrook did what I thought was truly unthinkable.