Russell Westbrook is what would happen if you took a rabid jaguar and injected it with the active component of a ghost pepper. It is what makes him either the best or worst basketball player in the NBA, depending on your perspective. He is the kind of person who will run through a brick wall with the hope that there’s a larger, thicker brick wall behind it. To some, this comes off as an unparalleled competitive drive, but others view it as a gross selfishness and a desire to prove himself as superior to everyone, even his teammates.
This is what makes Westbrook the single most interesting player heading into the 2016-17 NBA season. Now that Kevin Durant is out of the picture, we will likely get peak Westbrook for 82 games. No longer is he one of the two co-stars on a really good team, he is the clear-cut alpha dog on a team full of young, athletic dudes who need a leader. Preferably a leader who is a hyper-competitive athletic dude who wants to do nothing more than scorch the earth for 82-consecutive games.
But let’s face it, no one cares about 82 games when they’re talking about Westbrook in 2016. They are talking about one game: Warriors at Thunder. You can bet anything that game is going to be on a Thursday night on TNT (or a Christmas Day game), it will receive wall-to-wall coverage by basically every media outlet you can name. The crowd in Oklahoma City will want blood, and they will all look to Russell Westbrook to almost single-handedly take down the superteam to end all superteams.
We’ve actually seen this before, on Dec. 3, 2010. The LeBron James-led Miami Heat walked into Cleveland and thrashed a Cavs team that was led by Daniel Gibson, Mo Williams, and Anderson Varejao, 118-90. It was a foregone conclusion that Miami would win because Cleveland’s roster was bare at that point while the Heat had three of the 10 to 15 best players on Earth, including LeBron, who five months earlier ripped out the hearts of Cavaliers fans by saying he was taking his talents to South Beach.
But honestly, none of that mattered, because this was the biggest regular season basketball game of the year. For 48 minutes, the crowd in Cleveland was either going to will the Cavaliers to victory, or they were going to die trying. It was the purest form of fandom, and while no person in their right mind actually thought Cleveland was going to win, those fans were going to do everything they could to will their team to victory.