In the final interview session before the All-Star Game on Sunday, OKC’s Kevin Durant had this to say to a group of reporters:
‘You guys really don’t know (expletive),’
‘To be honest, man, I’m only here talking to y’all because I have to,’ Durant said. ‘So I really don’t care. Y’all not my friends. You’re going to write what you want to write. You’re going to love us one day and hate us the next. That’s a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y’all.’
Earlier in the weekend, Durant had said the media should not be allowed to vote for such awards like the NBA MVP.
While Durant was beefing with media and trying to deal with OKC’s struggles to salvage the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference, Westbrook has finally captured the spotlight and even Durant’s All-Star rant couldn’t detract from the former UCLA Bruins guard’s “me” moment in a career that is constantly evolving.
Most basketball heads don’t even give Russ Top 3 point guard props. Everybody’s all gushy and lovey-dovey over the two yellow boys bombing over in Golden State, an aging Chris Paul and a compromised Derrick Rose.
Westbrook on the other hand is the rough and tumble locomotive with a throwback roll-to-the rack game sparked by grit, speed, confidence and a bucket of new-age athleticism. On Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, cats named Lebron James (30 points), James Harden (29 points), “Chef” Curry, John Wall, and KD were all in skill flex mode, but finally…fittingly Westbrook, a medical marvel as much as a physical specimen, proved to be the best.
For the first time in his career, the story was all about Russ.
Westbrook scored 41 points and proved to have the flash and the dash that epitomizes these All-Star games by setting a record with 27 first-half points and a flury of aerial acrobatics. If Westbrook knew he was on Wilt's heels, he probably would have smashed Chamberlain's mark of 42 points set in 1962.
"I missed about six or seven layups," Westbrook, who even banged his head executing one crazy flush, said. "I could definitely have had it."
Westbrook became the third player to score 40 points in an All-Star Game, joining Chamberlain and Michael Jordan, who had 40 in 1988.
What a reward for the prideful Westbrook. In the past he's had to endure Kevin Durant being anointed the new best player in the game and ripping off 30-and 40-point games while Westbrook battled through three surgeries in one calendar year. Surgeries that in the eyes of some stunted his growth and ascension into a Top 3 NBA floor general.
In Dec of 2013, Westbrook underwent an arthroscopic procedure that left him out until after the All-Star break. The blow came on the heels of Westbrook’s meniscus tear from the first round of the playoffs in April of 2013 and the subsequent clean up surgery he underwent that October. Showing his true gangsta, Westbrook cut a projected six-week rehab process short and made a surprise return to the Thunder just three games into the season.
When Westbrook went down the first time, folks said Durant could carry the team on his own. They had dude confused with Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or something. That’s understandable though. With Kobe's health fading and LBJ dominating the ring game, the media hyped KD through the roof and in the process minimized how dope and essential to OKC’s success that Westbrook is.
A guy like Westbrook who possesses king-sized determination, talent and ego has never liked being considered the second option. Early in the Dynamic Duo’s union, Westbrook was accused of forcing the issue to prove he has an even deadlier killer instinct than the 6-foot-9,multi-skilled, silky smooth chosen one he’s been sharing the rock with since 2008.
For the most part, however, Westbrook keeps silent when people overlooked his game. He does his yapping on the court. When Durant had his first major injury – a fractured right foot that led to him missing the first six weeks of this season, you know Russ was salivating at the opportunity to run the show for dolo.
Just when it was Westbrook’s time to take the reins and shine (after scoring 38 points in a season-opening loss to the Portland Trailblazers) he fractured the second metacarpal in his right hand against the Los Angeles Clippers and subsequently missed 14 games with the injury. With the pair both inactive for the start of the season, the Thunder dropped to a 4-12 record prior to Westbrook's return on November 28 against the New York Knicks.
Fast forward to February 16th and it’s clear that Durant is still working out the kinks and trying to regain that dominance of his 2013 MVP season. He’s even getting a little sensitive as he’s obviously not getting the media love he got just a year ago and doesn’t know how to take it. The pressure seems to be getting to him after eight seasons of failing to take his team to the next level. Everybody’s looking at him like, “Are you a Tim Duncan or a George Gervin?”
No matter how much public perception shapes a person’s reputation and legacy, some people refuse to be ignored. Westbrook is one of those guys and instead of throwing tantrums he’s assassinating the comp. The way he just took that All-Star MVP when the announcers obviously favored LBJ or a Splash Brother to win it is further proof that Westbrook is the kind of dude that refuses to be anybody’s sidekick. You gotta respect that.
OKC can’t survive without it.
And the All-Star game was better for it.