I missed this last week. The New York Times did a feature on Oklahoma Thunder basketball player Russell Westbrook.
Sam Anderson unpacks Westbrook’s genius as a player, his famous basketball relationship with teammate Kevin Durant who has departed for the Warriors, and his personality.
It’s a great read.
Rarely do you see a player change roles as significantly as Russell Westbrook has in this case. He has gone from sidekick, or half of a duo, depending on your perspective, to the leader of the team and the pivotal player. He is also in pursuit of a rare athletic feat.
Westbrook is now playing against history. The Holy Grail of triple-doubling is not just to pile up a ridiculous number of them but to actually average a triple-double for an entire season. This has only happened once, in 1961-62, when Oscar Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists — numbers straight from the mouth of God.
The article also sheds light on the interesting and private Westbrook.
Westbrook is not merely a superelite athlete (he is commonly referred to as the most athletic player in the N.B.A.); he also has a highly unusual mind. He is moody, stubborn, loyal and fiercely private, a control freak and a perfectionist. Outside a very small circle of family and friends, he refuses to be known. The triple-doubles, their sheer unreasonableness, are as much a reflection of this personality as of any particular basketball skills. Each time he registers one it is like a signal — a ping from the sealed box of his private mind.
Russell Westbrook Late Bloomer
On another note, I have recently written about the negative correlation between early athletic success and success as an adult. Westbrook himself was not particularly successful as a young basketball player, but blossomed during his college years.
As a high school player, Westbrook was spectacularly unheralded. He was the shortest kid on his team, not even able to dunk until his senior year. Although he already possessed most of the qualities that would eventually make him great — the crazy speed and fearlessness, the motor that never stopped — basketball was fundamentally a game of size, and Westbrook didn’t have it. A lifetime of arguing on playgrounds looked as if it might be his best case.
Then came a miraculous growth spurt. Toward the end of high school, Westbrook shot up seven inches, from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-3. Suddenly, all his intangible gifts were attached to formidable size. Westbrook was still not an elite recruit — it was too late for that — but he was good enough to earn a last-minute scholarship to U.C.L.A. after one of its star players declared unexpectedly for the N.B.A. draft.
Read the whole article here. It’s well worth your time.