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Tag Archives: Russell Westbrook

How Westbrook became the Kanye West of the NBA

By Ryan Stiver (@ryanMstives)

There have only ever been three, “Oh shit, game-changer” type moments in my entire life:

  • When my current girlfriend led me on a cat-and-mouse game to get her phone number so I could call her again.
  • The moment Kanye West’s “Through the Wire” music video played before basketball practice one morning in 8th grade — on MTV no less!
  • Witnessing Russell Westbrook play basketball.

Now, no one needs to hear the story about how the girlfriend leads me on a wild-goose-chase for ten digits, it is the latter two topics and the parallelism between them that are important. Here it’s, “How Westbrook became the Kanye West of the NBA.”

There, of course, are the easy examples of them both having their own clothing line or being top-five in their respected fields, but there is more than that, these two men are not just talented, rich celebrities — they are enigmas. They are Brodie and Yeezus, singular names that only certain greats can achieve (Prince, Oprah, Cher). They stand alone upon a plateau of greatness that only particular people can achieve.

Like butterflies emerging from a Louis Vuitton-stitched cocoon, the two men burst onto the scene having spent their formative years learning from men perceived to be superior to them at their craft. This time spent in the backseat — the shadows — learning from those around them, prepared them for the journey ahead as they yearned for an opportunity to break through.

Westbrook is full of a braggadocios attitude, a theatrical man, unafraid of his irrationality of being the greatness he strives for. That sounds an awful lot like a young boy from the suburbs of Chicago who once penned, “I found bravery in my bravado.” They both played second-banana to two people considered objectively better (Jay-Z and Durant respectively) before striking out on their own to show how much they’d learned while riding shotgun.

Tidbits here and there were the building blocks of their individual brick road to greatness. Some examples include Common’s “The Food,” or Talib Kweli’s “Get By” remix, (which of course, was produced by West). They were Westbrook’s 2011 and 2012 seasons where he averaged 23 points, five rebounds and four assists per game, following it up with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists the following year.

These were the pods dropped into the earth set to bloom into something magical, something beyond the realm of our understanding of hip-hop or how basketball was to be played. They changed the game. These two men were altering the landscape of the worlds around them with nothing but their own sheer will to succeed on their quest to become the greatest of all time.

We had seen the glimpse of greatness from both men before their masterpieces came to the forefront of the cultural consciousness. Westbrook’s Finals appearance against a strong Miami team was his “Late Registration” moment. It was his leap up and into superstardom that showed the world what he would be capable of as his career progressed. It was the sophomoric attempt that led to a truly unforgettable outcome.

Coming off the loss of that Finals, Westbrook — like West — would ride right on the cusp of G.O.A.T. levels, but never quite reaching that level. Both men driven by pure rage and artistry, an ego that needed to be freed.

In 2010, Kanye would release his magnum opus, the masterpiece upon which the Church of Yeezus was built — the chief cornerstone. If “Late Registration” was Brodie’s Miami Final, then “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is his triple-double season.

Much like West after the now infamous “Swift” incident at the awards show, basketball heads waited with baited breath to see how Westbrook would come back. No one knew for sure what he was going to be capable of, but fans knew it would be special and landscape-changing. That was exactly what happened.

Now we wait to see what happens going forward. Does Brodie go and make his equivalent of “YEEZUS”, the year where he goes full swag-mode entirely relying on his own ability, despite having the resources around to become part of the cultural zeitgeist? Or will Westbrook skip this phase and become more self-aware? Will he realize that his peak has come and now it is time to influence not only those around him but those coming up behind him, much like “The Life of Pablo” did for Kanye?

Does Brodie come into the 2018 season knowing full-well he has hit the pantheon of greatness in the current NBA and decide that it is now time to take a leadership role, to escort a younger generation of players on their own journey or does he decide he still has more in the tank to do it all himself?

No single person or example can answer these questions, we all just know that witnessing the rise of both these men has been nothing short of spectacular. West and Westbrook are a no-holds-barred, do everything with an Oak-sized tree chip on your shoulder and outperform, “because we are the best” mentality. It may not always be true for the both of them — but it sure is amazing to witness.

 

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