Watching Russell Westbrook play basketball by yourself in the comforts of your personal space can be a confounding experience. Not having someone to counter your visceral reactions when watching Oklahoma City’s point god do everything from attempting to dunk on an entire team to giving the referees the meanest of stinkfaces can be problematic. Questions like “Did I just see him do that?” and “Why Russ gotta be so rude?” are left unanswered and can leave one in a constant state of confusion and euphoria, because all you can do is keep watching a real life Tazmanian Devil continue to wreck havoc on anything near his vicinity, even occasionally, his own teammates.
On Wednesday night, Westbrook’s whirlwind efforts took new heights versus the Orlando Magic, as once again the Thunder struggled to keep pace with a team its record suggests it's better than. Just this past Monday, with OKC down 13 points to the Dallas Mavericks and only four minutes left in the game, it felt like the game was out of reach to a team out of playoff consideration. Then the detonation occurred, with Russ scoring 12 of the last 14 to give OKC a one-point stunner.
Surely the Magic witnessed what took place to Dallas and wouldn’t be beat by Russ in similar fashion, right? Of course not.
Westbrook’s next explosion was a constant barrage of missile strikes on a hapless foe. The co-leading MVP candidate helped provide the Thunder its largest comeback in franchise history, as Orlando’s 21-point lead was roasted, toasted and burnt to a crisp in the second half en route to a 114-106 overtime victory. Oh, and maybe the greatest triple-double in NBA history was recorded as well.
57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. His 38th and most impressive triple-double of the season.
Let’s provide some perspective, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau:
Russell Westbrook scored 57 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and handed out 11 assists in the Thunder’s overtime win over the Magic. The 57 points were the most ever scored by a player in a triple-double, surpassing the previous record of 53, which was set Wilt Chamberlain on March 18, 1968 and matched by James Harden. There have been four 50-point triple-doubles in 1119 games this season, two by Westbrook and two by Harden. Prior to this season, there were only six 50-point triple-doubles in over 56,000 regular-season NBA games (1946-47 through 2015-16).
Westbrook scored half of the Thunder’s points (57 of 114) and had more than half of their (sic) assists (11 of 18) on Wednesday night. It’s only the third time in the shot clock era that an NBA player scored at least half of his team’s points and had at least half of his team’s assists in the same game. Oscar Robertson did it for the Royals on December 18, 1964 and Stephen Curry did it for the Warriors on February 27, 2013.
As the fans in Orlando began chanting “M-V-P” in honor of Westbrook, I think back to that infamous photo of him lustily gazing at the trophy Kevin Durant won a few years prior. I wonder if he knew that this day would come.
- Did he know that KD would eventually leave the Thunder?
- Did he know that if he had the opportunity to lead his own squad that he’d go scorched earth and leave everything blackened like a volcanic eruption?
- Had he already pondered what egregious outfit he’d wear when accepting the MVP award?
As the great Free Darko pointed out at GQ, “Westbrook, who was once viewed as prickly and possibly selfish, is a hell-bent folk hero,” one who not only does everything in his power to command respect, but also one uses the perceived lack of it as constant diesel fuel for his V12 engine. Watch how his teammates celebrated him after he hit those huge shots in Dallas and Orlando. It’s pure joy that emanates from the collective, and Russell is the tie that binds them all together.
One day, I’ll allow myself to watch basketball games with others while Russell Westbrook is destroying everything on a basketball court. Sometimes I think I’m scared to do so because my visceral reactions are unexplainable. It’s raw and emotional, and I’m not the one acting that way in front of tens of thousands of people in an arena and millions of people around the world. I’m in my living room acting that way, forever appreciating a man doing that in pursuit of Oscar Robertson’s holy grail. Even if he doesn’t win MVP, who cares? The season of Westbrook will be singed into your brain forever, because that’s how this has to end.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”