The 2016-2017 NBA Season has been a season absorbed with storylines. From a possible Finals trilogy, to the controversial topic of teams resting multiple stars without giving the media or fans prior notice.
However, when historians look back upon the 2016-2017 season, they will do so with a keen sense of appreciation for the work of one, Russel Westbrook. Despite numerous headlines involving his relationship with former teammate Kevin Durant, Westbrook has thrived in the age of social media, where every single action celebrities or professional athletes do can either be highly criticized or exceedingly praised.
Yet despite an offseason that shook his Oklahoma City Thunder team to its core, Westbrook has been the rock for not only his team but the city. While no one can argue Durant’s right as a free agent to sign with whomever he choose, it was Westbrook who choose to stay in Oklahoma City, which makes his historic season that much more special.
This piece is in no way, shape, or form seeking to criticize Durant for his business decisions, or any free agent for that matter for deciding to leave a team and city for a situation that will better fit their needs.
Instead this piece will demonstrate why the affinity for Westbrook’s potential MVP season and Durant leaving are not mutually exclusive occurrences.
Since the franchise arrived in Oklahoma City by way of Seattle, the narrative has always been that the Thunder were essentially “Durant’s Team.” He was lauded as the city’s star. He opened a restaurant and became engrained within the Oklahoma City community.
But this narrative seemingly forgets that Westbrook had been in Oklahoma City just as long as Durant. Both were drafted by the Seattle Supersonics and both played in the inaugural season as the Thunder. The only difference between the two players was that Durant played a full season for the Sonics in Seattle. The Sonics announced their immediate relocation to Oklahoma City only six days after drafting Westbrook in 2008.
Flashing forward to this season, Westbrook has done something that we have not seen done in 55 years, averaging a triple-double for the entire season. This feat is complimented with the fact that the average NBA viewer is 37-years-old, meaning the average fan saw something that they had not only never seen before, but never imagined possible.
Even Westbrook himself didn’t think he would accomplish this feat.
In a story for Bleacher Report, Mike Gaven asked Westbrook about the record, to which Westbrook replied that even as a fan of the game, he didn’t think anyone would ever average a triple-double again.
Westbrook has recorded a triple-double in 42 games this season, leading all players in a sudden influx of triple-doubles. However, despite living in the age of analytics, we do not need numbers to quantify Westbrook’s importance to his team.
It is for this reason that Westbrook should be awarded the MVP.
We have all seen what happens when a superstar leaves a team via free agency and how long the proverbial rebuilding process can last when their former team receives nothing in return. Now multiply that tenfold if two superstars leave within a span of two years.
Yet it was Westbrook who put those worries to rest when he signed a three-year, $85.7 million contract extension with the Thunder prior to the season.
For the longest time, it was believed that Westbrook would be the star to depart, longing to play in a big market. Instead, Westbrook chooses to stay in OKC for at least three more years. This should bolster his resume when voters vote for the most valuable player. He arguably kept fan morale at an all-time high while showcasing something that the league has not seen in 55 years.
In an age where seemingly the only statistic that matters is how many rings you have on your hand, it’s refreshing to see a player that didn’t leave to chase a title.
One can only imagine where the Thunder would be if not for Westbrook and his historic season.
[Featured Image by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images]