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Russell Westbrook's Historic Rise - Chris "Preach" Smith

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Sports holds a dominant position over the hearts and minds
of its fans for many reasons. One of those prominent reasons
is the fact that there are records that have been set in various
sports that to the naked eye, not only seem impossible to obtain
but to even break. Off the top of the head, there's baseball with
Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak and Cal Ripken Jr.'s streak
of 2,630 consecutive games played. The lone undefeated season
record in NFL history still celebrated by the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
And in basketball, outside of Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in a
game, the only other record that seemed out of reach was Oscar
Robertson's averaging a triple-double for the entire NBA season.

Until Russell Westbrook made this season one for the ages.

The 2016-17 NBA season was one major uncertainty for Westbrook
and his Oklahoma City Thunder. Mainly because the emphasis in
that first sentence was now firmly placed on the word "his" - Kevin
Durant made his fateful decision to join the Western Conference
rival and one of the best teams in the league, the Golden State
Warriors in the offseason. Adding to this, Durant apparently left
Westbrook out of any discussion over his choice, leaving a wide rift
between the two that hadn't even been realized before. Sports
media and fans ate it up because if there's anything that both
parties love these days, it's discord spread out on webpages and
newspaper print like a seafood feast at City Island. A lot of people
had an opinion that the Thunder & Durant were being hindered
because of Russell's all-out play which sometimes led to the disruption
of the team's offense. There was always this cloud hanging over
the team, a squad many felt could do better than one Finals trip
since both KD and Russell were drafted. A lot of blame was put
on Westbrook. I admit that I had my own doubts about him.

The thing about crisis when it appears is, it will show you what
disappears and what remains.

If there is one thing that can never be questioned after this NBA
season, no matter how the Thunder end up in the postseason, it's
that Westbrook's ability to lead a team through play and example
can never be in doubt ever again. The fact that he's averaged a
triple-double for the season is staggering enough on the surface
given the role of today's NBA player with outside commitments and
a more compact and rigorous schedule and international play. It
is when you dig deeper into the numbers that you realize that he
tapped into something that will further enshrine him in the legacy
of the game. Consider this - when he clinched the triple-double
season average this past Friday night against the Phoenix Suns,
he didn't even GET that stat in full - six assists that night put him
squarely in the average. Another point to look at - this season he
accomplished two rarities. He managed a triple-double without
missing either a shot attempt or a free throw. Also, he is the
first player since Karl Malone to average a double-double in rebounds
and scoring. On a slightly more dubious note, he also notched 
a quadruple double - with 10 turnovers in a loss. 

Photo Credit: Sporting News

All of this has occurred while he has been part of a dominant
and sometimes overwrought soap opera plot - will he and Durant
ever be cool again? That was what played out week after week
as the season began, with KD quotes that weren't too flattering
of Russ and his squad, and Westbrook effectively not making any
statements in kind except one social media image that spoke
volumes - a picture of a cupcake. The drama continued until
the All-Star Game in New Orleans, where one lob assist between
the two served as the knife to sever all that tension. But through
it all, Westbrook has not only proven he can lead a team, but that
he deserves to be put in the superstar pantheon along with Lebron,
Stephen Curry and Durant.  And SHOULD be the MVP - I don't 
want to hear any more waffling or statements that he and James
Harden of the Houston Rockets(who's having a fine season himself)
should share the award. Nope. Especially when you consider that
Oklahoma City at the sixth seed will face Harden's Rockets in the
first round and could knock them out of it. Would you want to
make a strong bet against Westbrook? In this scenario, I wouldn't.

When records fall, you don't really grasp the magnitude until days
after. The initial hot takes subside. History announces itself again
through the eyes of those who recall witnessing it or having heard
enough about it through those witnesses. The fact that Westbrook
did this as Oscar Robertson is still present to see it, is something
that should get your heart warmed up and should make you see
the similarities between the two. Robertson was a consumate scorer
and playmaker to the point that he raised ire and jealousy from a
former Boston Celtics great who was his teammate and coach, Bob
Cousy in Cincinatti. He also was key to NBA players having a say in
their own financial future through the advent of free agency. For
Westbrook, his sense of style and his moments where he has to
check reporters (we all know the famous mean mug he once gave
in the locker room) has set him apart from other players. That and
his unwavering commitment to the Thunder has softened even
some of his most volatile critics. It will be something to see how
the two greet each other in the wake of this regular season.


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