Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Open Letter to Russell Westbrook

By Charlie Scaturro


Damn man, it was one hell of a ride. The numbers are beyond impressive but even they don’t do your season justice.

28.1 points.

7.3 rebounds.

8.6 assists.

2.1 steals.

I won’t even bother looking up the other players who have posted those numbers for a full season, but I feel pretty confident saying that you’re in some extremely exclusive company.

I probably don’t have to tell you this, but the grind of an NBA season can really drag on. There are way too many games and there’s way too much time for people to stay focused solely on basketball. In a sport that’s fueled by stars, you were one of the players who made this season so much fun in spite of that monotony. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from talking.

People say you shoot too much.

People say you’re not a true point guard.

People say your interactions with the media are contentious.

People say you might be one of the reasons Kevin Durant leaves Oklahoma City when his contract expires.

People say a lot of things. I know none of it means much to you.

Criticizing you has been fashionable since you entered the league. Not necessarily because there’s a lot to criticize, but because people need something to talk about and you’re impossible to miss on or off the court.

It could be because we don’t know what to make of you. It could be because the Thunder are supposed to be Durant’s team. It could be because the Thunder haven’t won a championship yet. It could be because you’re not the most cooperative with the media.

I don’t know. I’m not a member of the NBA’s inner circle nor do I have my own sports talk show where I can spew opinions non-stop.

What I do know is that there aren’t many 6’3’’ guards in the history of basketball who have averaged 28, 7 and 8, while winning jump balls against guys who are 7’1’’ and attacking the rim like it wronged someone in their family.

Maybe that’s why we’re not quite sure what to make of you. Maybe that’s why it seems like you can never do anything right in the eyes of some people.

No matter what you’ve done, there always seems to be some variation of “…though it took him 43 shots to do it” waiting at the end of each statement.

Maybe I’m getting too existential, but the human condition dictates that we see faults in other people much easier than seeing our own. So we pile on and criticize others. Maybe that’s a part of what’s happening here.

Not that it’s necessarily a fault, but the way you kill yourself on the court it seems like one of the only criticisms of your game is that you’re too intense. There is no 75% effort, no cruise control. And that’s why fans love watching you.

They know you’re burning out the clutch every single game. 

You play basketball the way a lot of us would like to live the portions of our lives we’re passionate about. Confident, talented, brash, supremely focused, and all the while not caring about what others say or think.

Watching you play is like if someone built a remote control for hurricanes, but the remote control only works 70% of the time.

You probably could have taken more than one game off after you broke your face and had surgery to fix it. You probably could’ve dialed it down when it was announced that Durant would be out for the rest of the season and Serge Ibaka would be out indefinitely. After all, even with the way you’re playing, there’s no way this Thunder team makes a run through the Western Conference without KD and Ibaka.

It’s not about triple-doubles.

It’s not about 50-point games.

It’s not about scoring 41 points in 26 minutes in the All-Star Game.

It’s not about leading the NBA in scoring.

It’s not even about completely taking over, putting an entire team on your back, and nearly making the playoffs.

It’s about you being you. Westbrook being Westbrook. Whatever people want or expect from you doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing everything you can to help your team win.

I haven’t watched a ton of Thunder games this season but I’ve seen enough to know that most NBA players can only dream of doing what you did this season.

And it’s not just the numbers, either. Sometimes it’s the little things.

Like a game against the Bulls in mid-March where the Thunder were up 5 with the ball and just 30 seconds to play. You catch the inbounds pass and the Bulls try to foul you, except they can’t. They literally can’t get a single finger on you.

Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic were both standing in front of you, reached down to grab you, and came up with air. You spanned the court in what seemed like three steps, knifed through the lane, and hit a contested layup. I don’t remember who was at the rim but they tried to foul you as well. They also came up empty handed. I’ve never seen anything quite like that on a basketball court.

Maybe you shouldn’t have scored. Maybe you should have waited for the Bulls to foul you so you could bleed more time off the clock. Most players probably would have, and I suppose that’s the correct basketball play. But watching you outrun the entire Bulls team was way too much fun to worry about what the right play should have been.

It’s just one play, but it’s everything.

Not that you ever would, but don’t change the way you play or approach the game. Keep doing you. Keep spilling out your guts every time you step on the floor. Keep pushing yourself to the absolute limit of what humans have ever done on a basketball court. It’s beautiful, even if it means you might have to retire in your early 30’s because you just pushed it too damn hard in your 20’s.

I know missing the playoffs only made you want to work harder, but I hope you take a break for at least a few weeks during the offseason. Defenders around the NBA need a break from trying to guard you, and the rest of us need a break from trying to figure out what to make of you.

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