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Opinion: Westbrook’s Legacy Won’t Be Defined by Rings and That’s Okay

The Future Hall of Famer doesn’t need a championship to certify his future as an NBA legend and people need to accept that

Kofi Amankwaa Jr.
May 11 · 4 min read

Last month Washington Wizards All Star Russell Westbrook made history by recording another historic triple double performance with 35 points and 20 assists in a win against the Indiana Pacers. It was feat worthy to witness since you do not see many athletes have the kind of performances like Westbrook did. Everyone was giving Westbrook his accolades and deservedly so.

Well..everyone except Stephen A. Smith.

The following day after Westbrook’s performance, the famed ESPN analyst and media personality criticized Westbrook for putting up numbers but ultimately being empty because they do not amount to a championship ring.

“Westbrook’s numbers last night mean absolutely nothing to me because even though that’s great numbers, that’s what Westbrook can do. We all know this,” Smith said. “He’s a former league MVP. He’s the most athletic point guard we have ever seen in NBA history. But Bradley Beal and you are in the backcourt together and y’all are 17–28 in the Eastern Conference. … You’ve played with some great, great players over the years, some talent. And not a single title to show for it.”

This led to a bit of back and forth between Smith and Westbrook with the former MVP point guard retorting back about Smith’s negative comments and diminishing of his career just because he does not have a championship title.

“I don’t say much,” Westbrook said. “I don’t like to go back and forth about people, but one thing I won’t allow to happen anymore is to let people create narratives and constantly just talking s*** for no reason about me.”

Smith did not hold back and continued to justify his criticism of Westbrook and his play.

“The numbers are the numbers. That’s Russell Westbrook. He can do that to anybody. But I’m at a point in time in his career where it ain’t about that no more. It’s about whether or not you can get to another level to win the chip.”

Smith’s comments should not be dismissed as simple “hot take hating.” They are in fact true. Westbrook is an exceptional player and regardless of the Wizards’ performance this season he is one of the better point guards in the NBA. However he should have aspirations to win a championship since that is the last thing he needs to complete on his “check list” of accomplishments in the NBA.

Still, that does not mean that Westbrook’s legacy as an NBA legend is defined by whether or not he wins a championship ring. He has done plenty to certify himself as a legit first ballot Hall of Famer.

And yes, I’m being dead serious.

Regardless of how you feel about his game, his personality, or even his “fashion sense” (which I personally think is great!), Westbrook has done a lot during his tenure in the NBA. For over a decade Westbrook has cemented himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA. He averages a triple double every single season. That is no small feat and neither is it something that should be taken for granted. Yet despite this amazing achievement people continuously take it for granted. It is almost as if we see this type of play almost every day (which is not true).

“I don’t care what anybody thinks of this whatever they want to call it ‘stat-padding’ or ‘not useful,’” Westbrook said to reporters after breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record back in April. “I think it’s very interesting that it’s not useful now that I’m doing it. It wasn’t useful when Magic [Johnson] and Oscar [Robertson] and those guys were doing it. Now that I do it and it looks easy. This sh*t ain’t easy, though. I’ll tell you that. It ain’t easy.”

Sports fans can be very spoiled. Because we see record breaking achievements almost every year we think that they are no longer impressive. That is a very entitled viewpoint and it showcases how people are more interested in being snarky, sarcastic and being right about whatever “hot take” they come up with as opposed to simply having fun and marveling at peak human athleticism.

It is not even just Westbrook that has dealt with such overzealous scrutiny. You could apply this to Steph Curry’s season where people thought that he was “washed” because he simply was not having a definitive MVP season like he did before but he literally dropped 50 points over the Denver Nuggets and very few players in the NBA can do that in their sleep. Damian Lillard has played at an elite level to keep his team afloat in the playoff hunt and people do not think he is worth the MVP conversation because the Trailblazers are not the number one team in the league. Carmelo Anthony reached tenth in terms of most career points in the NBA history but people dismiss that achievement because — like Westbrook — he does not have “any rings.”

Yesterday Westbrook made history by breaking Oscar Robertson’s record of having the most triple doubles in an NBA season. He is now the new Triple Double King in NBA history. Even though his team lost the game the league marveled at this achievement because this was something that was never done before.

Westbrook does not need a championship ring to define his legacy. He is already a proven NBA legend.

*additional information from CBS Sports, Washington Post, ESPN, NY Times


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