By Alvin Halimwidjaya
With Kendrick Lamar announcing that his next album will be dropping on April 14, anticipation is heavy among his rabid fanbase. His latest single, “HUMBLE.,” is arrogant, forceful and a welcome sight to see after the more introspective, sociopolitical themes coming from To Pimp a Butterfly. We have no idea what this album is going to contain: will Kendrick Lamar spend 12 tracks taking shots at Drake? Will he have one song that will completely ruin Big Sean’s quasi-ruined career? Will his latest LP raze charts around the globe to the ground?
Similarly, when Kevin Durant abandoned the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors to make a Splash Family, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to joke around about how Russell Westbrook would take the league by storm. “Oh, watch Westbrook average a triple-double.” “Oh, watch Westbrook dunk on 86 percent of the league.” “Oh, watch Westbrook knock down 30-foot game-winners because he feels like it.” It felt good to imagine his ridiculously high ceiling; it would never happen, of course, because feats like averaging a triple-double just aren’t possible in today’s game. Right?
Well, what fans, critics and analysts galore failed to realize is that Russell Westbrook is the Kendrick Lamar of the NBA. Russell Westbrook is Kendrick’s “Control” verse personified. Imagine if you lit a forest on fire, chucked a nuclear missile into the mix and incinerated the entire planet with the Death Star: that’s what Russell Westbrook’s season has been to the rest of the league.
Averaging 31.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game, Brodie has done everything in his power to keep the Thunder afloat. In a year where there has been an unprecedented level of competition for MVP, Russell Westbrook has forged a season-long battering ram of a case that is impossible to ignore. On Sunday, he broke the 55-year-old record of 41 triple-doubles in a season previously held by Oscar Robertson. If that wasn’t enough, he also casually drained a 30-footer off a handoff at the buzzer to snatch a win and extinguish the Denver Nuggets’ playoff chances.
A man who has bulldozed through multiple teams with personal double-digit runs to win games, Westbrook has rammed home his qualifications like one of his signature fastbreak dunks. Seeing him grab a rebound, run up the court and charge through three defenders like Marshawn Lynch is genuinely exhilarating. He frequently pops three-pointers from ridiculous distances and positions, to the point where I feel like I could dare him to shoot a pull-up 27-footer when I’m on my computer in my room. His dunk on Clint Capela early in the season to seal a win over the Houston Rockets was one of the most threatening moments I’ve seen happen on a basketball court.
With what seems to be an athletic synthesis of rage and confidence, Westbrook has constantly reminded me this season of a defiant Kendrick Lamar. When I hear songs like “Backseat Freestyle” and “King Kunta,” I can picture Brodie knocking down a running three-pointer to send it to overtime against the Orlando Magic. When Russell Westbrook pulls a Shammgod out of his pocket before dishing his 22nd assist of the game, it screams a “I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you” vibe. In a phase of the game where players like Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving glide through defenses without disturbing a soul, Westbrook’s sole intent is to run through any opposition and deposit the ball in the basket with ferocity, whether from three feet or 30.
There are plenty of contenders for MVP; James Harden has taken Mike D’Antoni’s system and unleashed his offensive arsenal through a roster loaded with shooters. Lebron James has trudged through the season with the weariness of Wolverine in Logan, only dismantling opponents when he deems it necessary. Kawhi Leonard remains a silent, stone-cold juggernaut Gregg Popovich has groomed through the Spurs system (we have still not received confirmation whether he is human or robot).
However, through all the offensive brilliance we’ve seen this season, from Devin Booker’s 70 points to the Warriors’ onslaught from beyond the arc, Westbrook has forced himself into a position where his name is synonymous with pure force in the NBA. Every play he makes is a reminder drummed into fans that he can not, and will not be beaten. He is intent on crushing the spirit of whoever he is playing, and if he dunks on a couple of players? Even better. The 2016-17 season has been an ingloriously long and vigorous statement of intimidation from Russell Westbrook, essentially saying, in the most recent words of Kendrick Lamar, “sit down. Be humble.”