TThe dynamic sports ecosystem is ruthless and relentless. There can be no waffles or hang on the fence. There can only be cannonballs on either side of an argument – hard enough and fast enough to break the sound barrier, ideally. In this land of fever and fury, Stephen A Smith is like this bubbling volcano in Iceland, constantly on fire, always emerging.
Last week, ESPN’s scream king looked set to go to Vesuvius when a recent game between the Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards was brought up for discussion on his weekday morning scream show, First Take. The main result of this game, the Wizards’ third victory in 11 tries, was this statistic line: 35 points, 21 assists and 14 rebounds in 39 minutes played; only Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson came close to this performance – and even so, they’ve never scored or rebounded so much.
It was the kind of effort that usually made Screamin ‘A gush about said player being “a problem” or “a bad man.” But when that bad man turned out to be Russell Westbrook of the Wizards, well, there was a problem. Mount St Yellin remained totally cold. After 30 seconds of the obligatory “respect” preamble, Smith stopped chopping his words. “Westbrook’s numbers last night mean absolutely nothing to me,” he said with sober certainty. “When you look at your game, it’s the same every year. (…) But I am at one point [Westbrook’s] career where it is no longer in question. It’s a question of whether or not you can reach another level to earn the token. “
Then it was Westbrook’s wife’s turn to erupt. “I don’t know how many times I have to mind my own business and be randomly subjected to slander you my husband (who also happens to be minding his own business, being happy and living his best life),” she wrote on Instagram.
Westbrook himself was more philosophical. “I grew up on the streets,” the Long Beach, Calif., Native told reporters. “I don’t have to be an NBA champion. I know a lot of people who have had NBA championships who are miserable, who did nothing for their community, did nothing for the people of our world.
“I don’t say much. I don’t like to go back and forth on people, but one thing I won’t allow anymore is letting people create stories and constantly talk shit for no reason to me.
Mercy Westbrook, the incandescent ringleader who assists so many strong opinions – all ostensibly so personal. He’s doing himself no favors by being so convincing to watch on the court.
Like Michael Jordan before him, the 6-foot-3 Westbrook player approaches the game as if someone can watch him for the first time, so deep is his commitment to not just show up on court every night, but to give the maximum effort. He is a nine-time All-Star, an NBA MVP winner. He’s twice led the league in scoring and once lost 43 points in an NBA Finals game. It should be right next to Magic and the Big O in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done.
Most Impressive: Westbrook hasn’t missed a game in the first five years of his career while standing out as a production marvel. In grade 12, at age 32, Westbrook leads the league in triple doubles while also averaging in triple-doubles himself. The more successful he, alas, the harder it is for Smith and others to resist the temptation to dwell on his shortcomings.
They never fail to bring up those 11 seasons he spent in Oklahoma City, ripe fodder for a 30 for 30 documentary to be named later. For most of that time, those teams included not only Westbrook, but also Kevin Durant and James Harden – that’s right, Three of the last five MVP winners. But when those teams couldn’t get out of the Western Conference or were sent off to the NBA Finals by that other super team in Miami – and Durant and Harden went away and found success on their own – it became almost too practical to blame Westbrook. for retaining the group, even as he put the finishing touches to his MVP season with the Thunder in 2017.
A failed meeting with Harden in Houston via an exchange in 2019 virtually sealed Westbrook’s reputation in the field as a selfish stat hunter; Never mind that he became the third player in history to record 19,000 career points, 6,000 rebounds and 7,000 assists while playing in Mike D’Antoni’s Harden lone attack. And now, after being traded for Washington mainstay John Wall and a future lottery pick late last year, Westbrook can’t even get the credit for the emergence of Bradley Beal – the longtime sidekick. Wall’s date has become a plug that currently leads the league in scoring. If anything, it hurts Westbrook even more.
It has long been accepted in the NBA that a team needs at least two star players to be a championship threat. But with Westbrook and Beal in the backcourt, Washington is languishing in the basement of the Eastern Conference with Orlando and Detroit – neighbors who at least can say they recently parted with their best players. Meanwhile, the Hawks and the Knicks – the Knicks! – thrive. Instead of criticizing first-year general manager Tommy Sheppard for creating so much imbalance in the roster or roasting coach Scott Brooks for his historically numb and stupid spinning feel, the debate ends on just how badly the Wizards are. would be better or how much more impressive Westbrook would be. as a talent if he could rack up three points like Damian Lillard, who would likely trade a career with him at this point.
Conversations about NBA history start in the past and dive into the present. If Michael Jordan had played the game by now, he would average better than 50 a night. But what if Westbrook was stepped back in time for 30 years? Shoot, it’s almost too easy to imagine him being as revered as the Big O was in his day, asserting dominance with his midrange play as he didn’t win rebound battles against Charles Barkley – which, of course, can totally relate. Obviously, most of the Westbrook reviews have it all wrong. It’s not a hoop cyborg that was programmed to play the game for its own purposes. He’s more like the Buddhist monk who spends weeks carving a sand mandala to wipe off the slate at the end. Westbrook isn’t playing for his legacy, but for the time being. The reward is the work.
There’s still plenty of time on the clock for Westbrook to chase the ring if he does indeed choose to shoot a Blake Griffin or a LaMarcus Aldridge on the road – or better yet: finally connects with a trainer who understands how to mine at the better his singular skills. . In the meantime, maybe Westbrook and the world’s Stephen As will see that they’re really not that far apart. Which is to say: there’s a lot of entertainment value in watching both as long as neither is taken too seriously.