Remember that time DC Comics dedicated an ongoing monthly series to Robin of Batman and Robin fame?
Aptly named for its title character, Robin ran from 1993 to 2009 and was instrumental in helping the boy wonder make his transition from sidekick to superhero in his own right.
It’s not a comic book fantasy but a real-life injury to Kevin Durant’s foot that currently has Russell Westbrook helping himself to that same evolution.
A newly masked man due to a facial fracture and on one of the great tears of the 21st century through the league right now, Westbrook has finally emerged from the shadows of his reigning MVP and scoring champion of a teammate to mount quite the MVP crusade of his own.
Except, the fact of the matter is, he was never really in the shadows or a sidekick. All this time, he’s been one of the best players in the league who, unfortunately, has been forced to deal with our obsession for the “[NBA team name here] is so and so’s team” headlines.
The dynamic duo’s relationship status has been the most intriguing storyline during the Oklahoma City Thunder’s rise to relevance and contender over the last few years. Does Westbrook resent Durant’s spotlight? Is Durant irritated by Westbrook’s ball-hawking tendencies?
Most of us can’t imagine a world in which their bond wouldn’t be rife with friction. We all had way too much fun passing around that meme from last season’s MVP ceremony of Westbrook seemingly giving Durant a seething side eye to say that isn’t so.
Durant, according to head coach Scott Brooks, will be back in the Thunder lineup in one to two weeks. Perhaps, then we will finally come to know what tensions have been boiling under the surface all these years.
After all, with Durant’s return, Westbrook likely waves bye-bye to any MVP considerations, a tough pill to swallow for a man whose heroics have almost singlehandedly rescued a Thunder postseason from near-miss to close possibility at a current standing of a half-game out of eighth place in the Western Conference.
And there’s something else.
With number 35 back on the floor, Westbrook will once again be subjected to our expectations of deferral. It won’t happen immediately, but over time, we’ll forget how good he’s been on his own, and demand he concede his powers and restore possession to the leader we chose years ago.
It’s a Jordan-Pippen-like obligation for an association that feels more Kobe-Shaq-like in its disposition, except friendlier.
When Michael Jordan left for baseball, Scottie Pippen led the Bulls to the playoffs in his absence. Pippen is a top 50 player and a Hall-of-Famer, but he is no Michael Jordan. As such, when Jordan returned, there were no ifs, ands or buts about how the team would be regarded. The Chicago Bulls belonged to Michael Jordan.
During their time together with the Lakers, it always felt as though Shaq was being allowed to call the Lakers his team as opposed to Kobe’s. Their power struggle would often sneak out of the locker room, onto the court and into the media.
It’s no coincidence that during this magical run, Westbrook’s unrelenting game has been compared to Kobe’s. Even Bryant himself has said recently that he sees a lot of himself in Westbrook.
It shouldn’t be a surprise then if his mood concerning Durant’s return might be a prickly one.
After Robin’s solo run ended, the character morphed and took on various incarnations, but he would never again stand independent of his Batman conjunction.
Who could blame Russell Westbrook for not wanting to suffer the same fate?
I once ran a 6 and a half-minute mile. So, there's that.