By now, NBA season previews are rolling out. Countless basketball sites, podcasts, and television shows are breaking down all 30 teams; projecting how each will fare based on additions and subtractions. I would like to do something different and focus on teams through the fish-eyed lens of their respective most-intriguing player or players. I continue with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Russell Westbrook’s upcoming collection of 82 games is the most anticipated aspect of the NBA season. His impending wrath is a safer bet of NBA odds than picking a Cavs-Warriors Finals. I, like most fans, have been waiting for the season to begin for this reason more than any other. And when I thought of doing this “What’s Next?” series, he was one of the ideas I had in mind. I had to fabricate interest in most of the other teams’ previews, but I’m completely enthusiastic about writing this one. Let’s go.
I like to amuse myself. I don’t care if no one else finds the humor in whatever is making me chuckle. When I learned of Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State, I compiled a list of R&B breakup songs and imagined Russell Westbrook was listening to them as a way to get over his relationship. If you’d like to listen, it’s here on Spotify.There aren’t five people in the world better at basketball than the man wearing this outfit. (Credit: USA Today)
We know the plotline of the drama. Durant leaves for the Warriors, splitting up the most talented duo in the Association. Because we believe we know Westbrook’s psyche based on his attitude on the court and in interviews, we have already assumed he’s going to channel his bitterness into his play. Not only that, because we believe he plays borderline angrily, said emotions are going to fuel him to have an MVP-caliber season. Whatever tears he was supposed to shed will further power his, and The Already Spectacular Westbrook becomes Wolverine in a berserker rage. His tangible willpower will manifest in a glowing aura as he relentlessly attacks for 48 minutes.
Or maybe…he doesn’t. Maybe our projections are off, and Russell Westbrook just has an outstanding season–without any added emotion. Sure, the four times the Thunder plays the Warriors will be filled with tons of added intensity. But what about Russell Westbrook suggests he needs any more boosts to play better? What if all the motivation he needs lies in chasing an NBA championship?
That’s not fun. We love our sports for the drama of the unknown result. But we also love additional storylines, especially ones that will amplify the energy around these games. We’ve been conditioned to believe most professional athletes are both emotionless and emotional; and they must oscillate between the two extremes based on our whims.
Back to my Spotify playlist. I chose bitterness and feigned carelessness most have immediately after a breakup because that’s the most entertaining to me. I want to imagine Russ turning on some Mary J. Blige, sitting on the couch and mouthing the words to “Not Gon’ Cry.” “I was your lover and your secretary, working every day of the week. Was as the job when no one else was there, helping you get on your feet!” Eleven, uh, eight years he sacrificed. And Durant just left at the drop of a dime, uh, $54 million.
It’s easy to assume Russ is hurt, though our only evidence is circumstantial and based on common–not definite–human reaction. Westbrook, as he’s clearly stated, wants to move past thinking about Kevin Durant. And we should let him.
But we won’t let him. He has to grieve forever because pro athletes are never allowed to get over business decisions in public. Not as long as journalists and social media keep his reaction at the forefront of our minds. He’s going to play so well for the Thunder. Emotions aside, the last time Russell Westbrook played extensive basketball without KD, he had the best two months of anyone in 2015. Steph was the MVP of the entire season, but Russ was the best player after Durant was injured–coincidentally, against Golden State.
What I’m saying here is Russell Westbrook is fantastic. We don’t need to see if he manifests his feelings towards Durant joining the Warriors in his play. There is no necessity to wonder if he’ll attack the rim with the disdain of a jilted lover. Honestly, we won’t be able to tell the difference. The Wolverine is always angry. Let’s just enjoy his unbridled aggression. Where do broken hearts go? Do they find their way home, back to the open lane of the basket that’s waiting there?
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.