To Be An Oklahoman: A Meditation on Russell and Resiliency
This piece is a little late, obviously. I mean, the Thunder’s season is over, and the other dude I talk about in this thing is still playing. But I still feel like people deserve to remember maybe my favorite moment of the entire NBA season. Yes, better than Russ turning Capela into a pillar of salt.
Yes, better than the 50 point triple doubles.
Yes, better than his tsunami-like downpour against the Celtics.
And, I mean, call me crazy, but better than breaking the hearts of all people in Denver: past, present, and future.
I’m talking about that moment in the third matchup against Slytherin, or clones of Palpatine, or a team full of Ivan Dragos. Yeah, I’m talking about the Dubs. This was one of those moments when, like, you remember exactly where you were sitting. I remember how I felt. It was like time momentarily stopped, and all of everyone and everything everywhere was witnessing a clash. For me it was like the time-space continuum opened, slightly, and I saw something spectacular. For a split second we all got to peer into the souls of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. We didn’t just see them as athletes. This was like seeing them on the quantum level. We saw them existentially, the depths of their being.
I’m talking about toward the end of the third quarter, and the Thunder had been on a run to cut the lead. There was hope. That guy who left was trying to guard Russ Westbrook to no avail. Because, I mean, there’s only a couple guys who can guard him. And then it happened. A timeout. A pause in the universe that is The ‘Peake. Russ starts walking back to the Thunder bench. What’s his name started going toward his. Then time stops. Watch it again.
“I’m coming!” Those were Russ’ words.
What’s-his-face says, “You’re going to lose anyway.”
What’s Russ do? He says it again: “I’m coming!” with a cock of his head and throw of a fist. He’s met, again, with the same response: you are going to lose. Russ nods his head: “I’m coming!” He says it five times. Each one as defiant and noncompliant as the last. This is pure rebellion. No one is supposed to stand up to the Dubs. No one is supposed to beat them. But in this moment Russell Westbrook does what most everyone wishes they could do: stand up to the bully. This is the defiance that we all long for. This is like being a teenager and hearing for the first time Kanye rap about saying “Fuck it” to the system of upward mobility. This is Kendrick saying, “Sit down, bitch, be humble.” This is the French Revolution. This is defiant rebellion at its finest. This is the unabashed “I will not back down from you” moment.
Now, did Russ lose? Yeah, but Russ kept coming. And that’s the damn point anyway. It’s what makes Russell Westbrook different than most anybody else. That one guy’s words were meant to shut Russ down, to make Russ acquiesce, but the “I’m coming” mentality rebels against such notions. I will not let you stop me, even though the result is inevitable.
This was an existential clash. Two men. One preoccupied with not losing. Preoccupied so much with not losing that he left for something that was prettier and easier. He stopped coming. He’s not an Oklahoman.
Then there’s Russ. He showed us, Thunder fans, that he is an Oklahoman. He embodies the best of what we are: people who keep coming.
I grew up in Oklahoma. I lived there for twenty-two years, and that means Oklahoma culture formed and shaped me as a person. Probably, the characteristic of Oklahoma culture that most shaped me is resiliency. But just saying resiliency reduces it a little too much. What it really is, is like proud, hard, tough resiliency. It’s not just that Oklahomans don’t quit, it’s that they keep coming, and they will keep coming just because others say they won’t. We are resilient, and our resiliency is of the hardened, defiant, fuck you kind of resiliency.
I know this because I’ve seen it. I’m too young to remember the Murrah Building bombing, but I’ve heard stories from people that do remember. I know that the city was lost and devastated on that day, but I also know that the memorial is a reminder that we kept coming. We are resilient.
I know we are resilient because I remember May 3. I remember the state-wide turmoil that happened that day. I remember seeing the tornadoes. I remember being scared. I remember my classmates and teachers crying when each year we would remember that day. I also remember that we kept coming. I remember that we rebuilt, that we made homes and schools again, and we stayed neighbors the whole time. We kept coming.
I know we keep coming because I was there to see the destruction of the May 20 tornadoes. My best friend’s house got destroyed, and I was staying there at the time. I was there to see myself and others searching for their belongings and walking miles back to our homes to see if our families and neighbors were okay. I also saw that we kept coming. We built, again. My friend lives in a new house. We made new homes, and we kept relying on each other. We kept coming.
Oklahomans are always counted out. We see how the media portrays us, and we know what people think about us. This causes some anxiety in us. We often think that no one cares about us, no one wants to live here, and we have nothing to offer. This came to a head on July 04, 2016. It was our worst nightmare. We thought we had this dude who was committed, and he said as much. We thought he wanted to be here to be an Oklahoman with us. But then he left. Turns out what we were left with was someone cut from the same cloth. Russell Westbrook. The whole season was Russ, the Thunder, and the whole state just refusing to stop coming. At our very being, as Oklahomans, is that resilient urge to keep coming.
We saw the same thing on that Saturday night in OKC. Russ embodied that defiant resiliency Oklahomans know so well. The way he nods his head, the way he moves his hands, his facial expressions. It all screams defiance, noncompliance, rebellion. Resilency. Russ did not stop. We do not stop. Russ kept coming. We keep coming. It does not matter that he lost because to get stuck in the loss is to miss the larger point. When told to stop, yield, and bow he said, “I coming.”
Be proud, Oklahoma. Keep coming.