Stand Up for the Hurricane: defending Russell Westbrook

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 7: Russell Westbrook
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 7: Russell Westbrook /

I can’t defend Russell Westbrook. Nobody can.

How can something so pure be so polarizing? How can something which has never been anything other than a raw distillation of itself draw at once vitriol and venom alongside adoration and awe? Russell Westbrook went full supernova, both in his intensity and in his final result, in the OKC Thunder’s disappointing first-and-final series loss to the Utah Jazz, and his performance was widely lambasted and ridiculed.

All the while, I sat on my couch with my jaw dropped to my lap.

This man erupted for 43 points in a Finals game when he was 23 years old. He slapped 47, 45, and 46 points on the table in three consecutive elimination games. This man threw an entire city on his back when its favorite son, for whom Russ had always been shunted to the side, abandoned it, and he rose to win the NBA MVP.

This man stayed.

The Divide

He’s an entrepreneur and an icon, a family man and a philanthropist. By all accounts, he’s a good teammate. He shoots too much. He pads his stats. KD left, Oladipo ascended, PG hasn’t committed. He boxed out Carmelo Anthony by accident one time. He’s inefficient, and he’s a bad shooter. There’s passion in his voice and desire in his heart. He wants so badly. He wants too much.

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Every single thing in the above paragraph is true, and I challenge any fan, pro-Russ or otherwise, to argue against any one of them. For half of those things, half of people hate him. For all of those things, half of people love him. Is anyone wrong? Is there even a debate to be had?

It’s not that his showmanship and passion are mistaken for bravado and arrogance – it is no mistake. Russell Westbrook is arrogant, and he does want it too bad. It’s not that his desire and his motor are mistaken for stat-padding. Russell Westbrook pads his stats, and he takes 43 shots in a game. It’s not even a mistake to say that Kevin Durant left Russ. He saw a better, easier opportunity to win, and he bailed.

Yet, all of the negative things that anyone can say about Russ are exactly the things that his supporters love him for. He wants it so bad, he tries so hard, he’ll do anything. Russ showed up – PG wilted. KD left – Russ stayed.

Defend him?

Russell Westbrook is an explosion of talent and power and want. He’s a hurricane right inside your living room. He’s a last samurai, raging against the machine of progress to keep alive the relevance of diving for loose balls and dunking on a man’s head. For all of his flaws, he’s my favorite player. For all of his talents, he’s deeply flawed. He’s an auteur performer giving his all every night and making us all feel feelings. He’s anger and joy and need and scowls and excitement all rolled up into one tidal wave.

Emotion isn’t rational, love isn’t rational, nor is passion. Russell Westbrook cannot be defended. Why not? Because things as primal as those, as visceral as the roar of the crowd when the Thunder are the Thunder, or as shocking as the fury of a Russ flex-and-scream don’t require defense. They are what they are. They make you feel what you feel.

You can’t watch this and tell me you don’t feel something.

Or this.

Or this.

Why not?