Last Thursday at 8:00 am, I was sitting in the back row of a creative writing class waiting for the teacher to arrive on the first day. It wasn’t necessarily the back row because all of the desks were organized into a giant square facing towards the middle of the classroom, but I was in the back of the classroom, furthest from the door. Regardless of where everybody decided to sit, everybody was equal distance from an object that sat on a table in the middle of the opening created from our seating arrangement. That object? A Batman action figure that was about the height of a carton of orange juice.
The moment our professor stumbled into the classroom, he told us to take out a piece of paper and to make a list of the qualities that we believed we saw in the statue in front of us. The catch was that we weren’t allowed to list anything that we believed would be on another student’s sheet.
I sat there puzzled trying to think of words that wouldn’t be too common.
After about two minutes, I was able to jot down words such as fearless, unwavering, unpredictable, passionate, motivated, and of course, superhuman.
(I know, my words weren’t that good.)
The point of the exercise wasn’t to obsess over Batman, but rather to teach us to write this semester with the same qualities that made thought Batman a relevant superhero. It was clear that our professor didn’t want us to have any sort of restrictions towards our content throughout the time we’d be spending together.
The following day a conversation about Russell Westbrook came up with a coworker — first time I’ve seen this guy since the Durant/OKC departure. He says to me, “Are you even excited for the NBA season now that Durant messed up the league? How do you think Westbrook is going to play?”
At first, I was devastated by the move of Durant, but at the end of the day he put himself in a position to better his basketball opportunities and you can’t really get mad at a guy for that. It’s his competitiveness that is disappointing more than anything. However, it’s still basketball and that’s always something to look forward to because there are always interesting things to talk about and watch.
“Yes. Yes, I’m very excited for this season — laughing — I believe Westbrook is going to play the entire season how you’d imagine Batman would if he were a professional basketball player. Maybe closer to Tony Montana.”
While LeBron James is unquestionably the best basketball player in the world, I question whether or not he’s the most feared. From the perspective of winning games, or who you don’t want to face in a Game 7, I think the King’s talent is supreme to anybody else if that’s the criteria we’re filtering. He’s absolutely the most feared if he’s on the opposing team of a must-win game. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
The official definition of “fear” is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat to cause harm.” When speaking in that context, who over the last three years fits that gauge better than Russell Westbrook?
When Westbrook is at the peak of his game, there isn’t a more entertaining, tenacious, superhuman species in sports. It’s that simple. When Westbrook plays with the emotion and enthusiasm of the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps coming and coming and coming and coming. There is no back down of any sort inside of this man. He doesn’t stop fighting until he and everybody else on his team is knocked out. And even then, you better run before he gets back up.
What’s exciting is how personal Westbrook has taken the news of his ex-teammate leaving behind their unfulfilled dreams. He could have easily addressed the situation and announced he was happy to stay in OKC. Or held a press conference to say that he believed Durant can do what he wants and blah blah blah.
However, the silence he had over the initial news breaking was something we put our lives on pause for as we refreshed our social media feeds craving a response from Russell. After weeks had gone by, the only real reaction we got from him was a Vine of laughter — which told us everything inside of him that we needed to know:
The idea of Westbrook having his own team has always been an experiment that we’ve wanted as NBA fans. While it has obviously opened the door for early MVP wagering, we still aren’t positive what we’re going to get from Russell.
Throughout the entirety of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s tenure together, it was always a balancing act of who was the lead dog — likely the largest reason they never could ultimately bring Oklahoma City a championship. We always blamed Westbrook for taking away from Durant. We always believed they couldn’t win a championship together because of Westbrook’s spurts of randomness. Well, is it possible that all along it has been Durant holding Westbrook back from becoming basketball’s Batman?
I can only imagine Westbrook the moment that he found out Durant was officially gone:
However, as the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor suggests, this might not be as smooth as we’re hoping it to be.
In 48 games without Durant the last two seasons, Westbrook has averaged 30.5 points, 9.2 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per contest. Sure, ungodly numbers that only Oscar Robertson has maintained over the course of an entire season. And yes, it’s possible that Westbrook could match that output over 82 games, but while doing so the Thunder have managed to be a less than appealing 25-23.
How you go about telling the most aggressive, relentless athlete in the world that his greatest strength actually hurts the team more than it helps is unknown to me. The reason why OKC had struggled to get back to the Finals is because they’ve failed to improve the roster as long as Durant and Westbrook have been there. The dysfunction of the James Harden trade lead to a permanent disaster for the organization until Durant decided that it was time to move teams. Now, they finally have a single star that makes sense. The future is legible — even though it seemed so much better a few months ago. No longer is the leadership, crunch time duties, and the face of the franchise up for question. This transition seemed impossible in 2012, but after 4 years of disappointment, this is Russell Westbrook’s team.
They have never had the teammates good enough to push the offense to the level we believed was possible. Instead, they’ve had to play back-and-forth with Durant and Westbrook relying on those two’s individual talent alone to rally the Thunder from regular season wins to playoff victories.
Westbrook is better than he was two years ago — there is no denying that. He’s a different player than he was than, or even last year. Without Durant, the most unshakable, fearless mind in basketball gets to pull down his hockey mask and stab the hearts of NBA teams for the first time with his own individual blade.
There are two scenarios for Russell Westbrook this upcoming season:
(Hint: It’s a win for us either way.)
Scenario One: Westbrook Becomes an American Hero
There is an alternate universe in which Bruce Wayne lives as an ordinary person during the day, and Russell Westbrook at night. Somewhere in Oklahoma City, there is a Batcave that Wayne owns and produces the highest level of technology that allows him to become the super freak that we see roaming the Chesapeake Energy Arena during the night.
All kidding aside, there is a scenario for Westbrook this season where he saves the Oklahoma City Thunder from where they were the day Durant left them. With a rocky future staring the organization in the face, Westbrook resigned earlier than expected to announce that this team was going to be under his wing while moving forward. If he’s able to have any sort of success this season, America will obsess over him more than they already have for sticking it out with the team that drafted him. He’d literally become a superhero in the eyes of many.
The Thunder have some legitimate pieces in Stevan Adams, Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter, Cameron Payne, and Domantes Sabonis. If Billy Donovan and Westbrook are able to harness their strengths together, I’m one of the few that believe Westbrook won’t have to play as much as an individual as people are thinking. In fact, it will be easier to balance the floor and share the basketball without another superstar on the roster. The exit of Kevin Durant actually forces the rest of the team to be more engaged on the offensive side of the court. Don’t be surprised if Westbrook’s assists raise yet again, as we know he’s going to continue to score the basketball at a high rate.
As potentially the biggest mismatch in the entire NBA, Westbrook can finally be a catalyst for this Thunder team without having to worry about being the preventing object in an offense that always seemed to be unstable.
Westbrook has a free pass, or a “get out of jail free card” now with this team because of his loyalty. If Westbrook is able to rally his team as a collective unit, they’ll be able to stay in the middle of the Western Conference pack. By doing so, Westbrook will be forever appreciated by the millions of fans across the country that focus their attention to his lunch pail style approach to the craft he is somehow continuing to improve at.
Scenario Two: Westbrook Morphs into Tony Montana
The more compelling scenario for Russell Westbrook is the one where his misunderstood basketball story evolves into a generational juggernaut of self-motivated hatred towards anything and everything he crosses paths with.
Nothing excites me more than a world where Westbrook plays basketball this upcoming season without any concern of becoming the league’s biggest asshole. A world where his only mission is to land himself into the pool of self-righteousness with the other few superstars that we believe can compete by themselves. A world where Westbrook locks himself in his own thoughts before each game, convincing himself he is the baddest motherfucker on this planet. A world where Westbrook believes it’s his destiny to light up 82 teams on 82 different nights, forcing the league to understand that Westbrook has arrived solo dolo and isn’t falling back a single inch.
We need people like Russell Westbrook. We need Westbrook to be the bad guy. He’s not cut out to be America’s humble superstar like the way Stephen Curry is portrayed to be. I mean, the dude doesn’t even want to talk to the media, let alone pretend he enjoys the presence of an opponent. He’s one of the few left that is cut from the sacred cloth of competition, so why try to change him? It’s refreshing to watch Westbrook try to burst through the chest of his defender like he’s Michael Vick finding a glitch on Madden ’04.
Visualizing Westbrook rule the basketball court the way that Tony Montana (Al Pacino) owned the drug kingdom in Scarface is the image inside my head that I want. A basketball general with equal power, dominance, and glory to a fictional Cuban drug lord that finds his greatest satisfaction is his own individual achievements. I want Westbrook to be 05-06 Kobe Bryant. I want Westbrook to play 82 games in fast forward. I want Westbrook to play even more pissed off. I want Westbrook to run through Oracle Arena like it’s the backyard of his mother’s house that he paid for.
The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t supposed to beat the Golden State Warriors, and the beautiful thing about that fact is that Westbrook will simply refuse to believe that to be true. If he smells blood, he’s going to eat. If he senses a weakness, he’s going to attack.
If you’re one of the other 29 teams in the NBA, all you can do is strap up and get ready to go to war. You aren’t going to stop Russell Westbrook this season.
How do I know?