This is life for Russell Westbrook and high-profile athletes that find themselves in the ire of a 24/7 sports media’s relentless narrative. It can’t be that LeBron James is simply at the peak of his powers and any team in his way is destined to lose. Granted the Miami Heat still have one more game to win, but the theme of this postseason, if such a thing need exist in sports, is James’ magnificent play. He is facilitating both offense and defense at a historic pace, and despite a remarkable performance by Westbrook where he was unstoppable for long stretches of the game, eventually scoring 43, the Thunder still fell short.
A late mistake has columnists painting Westbrook as an inexperienced, explosive talent whose unawareness inevitably will cost the Thunder. Never mind the 47 minutes that preceded his decision to foul Chalmers in the final seconds. In a season where the Oklahoma City Thunder has played 85 games, the journey is negated—what have you done for me lately, Westbrook? Made a costly mistake, that’s what.
In his postgame press conference it was nice to hear Russell say he didn’t care what the sports media was saying. It’s now become a necessary skill for today’s modern athlete. James Harden is learning this. LeBron James has known it for years. And it’s remarkable the age at which it’s fair game to attack these young men. Westbrook is just 23, yet a few million people are questioning his intelligence and resolve in the wake of his masterful display of ability. He is facing scrutiny on a national scale when most at his age are simply trying to master the art of the entry-level interview. I messed my last one up by telling my potential employer that in five years I didn’t necessarily see myself with their company: a rookie mistake.
At the neighborhood playground the men warming up for the next pickup game like to talk basketball. “He shoots too much,” one of them says. “He’s not on Tony Parker’s level,” another utters. Yet the Thunder are three wins away from a championship title. He’s great enough to get them there, but flawed enough to have led them so close to a finals defeat. The media has convinced every amateur basketball connoisseur that Kevin Durant has led this team to such incredible success all on his own, and Westbrook is somehow standing between Durant and his ring. At just 23 like Westbrook, Durant’s time will come, and Westbrook is the caliber of player that can only help his chances in this new era of NBA.
This is just another example of how in NBA commentary the old-timers always prevail. A point guard is supposed to play a certain kind of way, and every team has one go-to-guy that you go to till the end, win or lose. Many seem unwilling to accept the prospect that Westbrook is one of the best guards in the league, yet he’s proven it time and time again this season. He pushes the ball up the court with such power and ferociousness, his intensity is an incredible thing to behold.
Durant is a great player, of course, and Westbrook is nothing short of astonishing when he’s on his game. He’s a worthy compliment to Durant and in many ways, directly responsible for the sheer output of Durant’s scoring. He penetrates with explosive quickness and kicks the ball to the perimeter giving Durant look after look at three-point field goals. Westbrook’s constant attacking of the defense opens up lanes in their spacing, it has to, he’s just too fast for any team not to collapse toward the basket in a desperate attempt to help, and Durant feeds off of this. Durant, a reigning MVP-runner up and inevitable winner of the top individual prize, owes his success in large part to Westbrook’s abilities, and he has always been the first to say this.
As the two gain experience their joint scoring is becoming more regular. The two complement each other so nicely; their future, and the present for that matter, is undoubtedly a bright one. This simply seems to be the Heat’s year to win the title. And it will have been won, not given to them.
A seasoned Westbrook and Durant could run the Western Conference for years to come, but for now they might have to settle for second place in the finals, and it’s really not the sensational failure that the media will make it out to be. It is a success to have made it to the big show, especially for a team so young. Oklahoma City should start filling up those empty rafters soon enough.
0 and 35 are going to be hanging next to a lot of banners someday.