By Vivek Jacob
Remember the part of Allen Iverson’s Hall of Fame speech where he talked about playing against Michael Jordan for the first time?
He spoke of a glow that surrounded the greatest basketball player of all time. He compared it to the aura that surrounded Rick James on the Chapelle Show.
“I walked out on the court and I looked at him, and for the first time in my life, a human being didn’t look real to me.”
I’m no Iverson, but you don’t need to be in order to sense that aura. When Russell Westbrook briskly passed through the concourse of the Air Canada Centre to get to the visitors’ locker room, there was that aura that Iverson described so vividly.
There may well have been a fog machine following behind him because there was this undeniable mystique about him, the dreamlike nature of a mythical creature passing by, except that you knew you’d see him again.
Westbrook is nothing if not relentless, and for 67 games now, he has kept coming, and coming, and coming. The league-leader in scoring, triple-doubles and doesn’t-give-a-shit factor is doing whatever he wants in a way that everyone must stop and take notice.
In game 68, there he was again, doing what can only be described as Russ things. With the Thunder leading 41-36 in the second quarter, he scored seven points and assisted his teammates five times over the final six minutes of the first half to push the Thunder lead to 10.
One of those assists came courtesy of a play you had to see to believe.
The halftime break was but a momentary breather for the Raptors, as Westbrook came out like a dementor straight out of Harry Potter, sucking the soul out of anyone that dared cross his path. He scored 12 points, assisted another five times, and even grabbed four rebounds to boot.
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The destruction was complete, so the fantastic beast checked out with 1:59 remaining in the quarter and the Thunder up 90-68. Russ’s line?
24 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds in just 28 minutes. His 34th triple-double of his historic season in the books, leaving the Raptors questioning themselves.
“It’s about us having a competitive spirit and coming out and treating all these games like playoff games,” said PJ Tucker after the game.
And therein lies the beauty of Russ. When he steps on the court, everything is on the line.
“He gives it everything he has. When you play 82 games, that’s hard to say,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan after the game. “I’ve always said this: Whenever he’s done playing the game, he’s never going to have any regret, because he left it all out there.”
Russell Westbrook gives everything he has, and has a unique manner of taking everything as well.
“He was a one man wrecking crew. He caused a lot of chain reactions, it starts with him,” Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “We had multiple breakdowns in terms of getting him under control because he is a great player.”
But just how great?
Norris Cole, former member and teammate of the Miami Heat and LeBron James respectively, knows a thing or two about witnessing greatness, but even he can’t help but be amazed.
“It’s impressive. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he said. “I don’t know any other words to describe it, it is impressive,” he said. “He just wants to win, and that’s a pure attitude. He’s not out there just playing for his stats, he’s playing to win the game, and that’s pure, and everyone knows that. It’s genuine, it’s genuine love for the team, and that’s what makes it special.”
For a former teammate of LeBron James to say he’s seeing things he’s never seen before is a testament to the colossal value of Westbrook, a value that has fans and media scratching their heads over one of the tightest MVP races of all-time.
Asking whether 31.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.4 assists through 68 games is worthy of an MVP vote is not the question here. It is a matter of recognizing this creature that now moves like a transcendent being, a scarecrow that sucks the life out of you without conscience, but does it not only because he knows it’s what gives him life, but that it gives his team life as well.
James Harden has a beard. Kawhi Leonard has a claw. But this freak of nature?
This freak of nature has an aura.