In the hours preceding the most critical moments of his hoops existence, Russell Westbrook spent his day on South Beach in near seclusion, no doubt pondering just how he might come to reconcile within himself who he sees himself as versus whom much the world seems convinced he should be.
In the few fleeting seconds it takes him to jet from one baseline to the other, the Oklahoma City star point guard yet again saw his persona transformed from the heights of having even the likes of the insatiable Charles Barkley rave about him to being portrayed as the poster boy depiction of why the Thunder now find themselves in a 3-1 Finals hole against Miami and facing a climb as steep as any an NBA champ has ever had to dig out of to prevail.
With just 15 seconds remaining and the Thunder trailing by only three, Westbrook foolhardily fouled Heat sharpshooter Mario Chalmers at a time when he and his discombobulated mates seemed destined to malfunction to the point of a critical shot clock violating turnover. Not long before then, he inexplicably dribbled the ball off his feet and out of bounds, again in a moment when his team seemed on the verge of stealing all the momentum from the by then LeBronless Big Three.
In between, well, Westbrook was simply Jordanesque—almost anyway— seeking 20 of 32 shots, many of them with multiple defenders draped all around him and all of them with thousand more disapproving eyes pining on his every move, as he went about the biz of masterfully racking up a playoff career-high 43 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
And now here he stood, once more faced with the reality of having to duplicate all his histrionics all over in the same hostile environs, though now perhaps less certain as to how to best chart his course alongside and in sync with three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant than ever before.
Even where a talent as dominant and explosive as Russell Westbrook’s is concerned, nonexecution and utter stagnation can reign as the great equalizers. As such, OKC faithful now fear if Westbrook’s blessing has become the team’s curse. Wonder if his hyperactive and overly aggressive nature is truly behind what now sabotages their team.
“It’s me and my teammates trying to win,” said Westbrook, in an apparent effort to salve over all the growing wounds. And yet in those same breathe, the riddle, the enigma that is Russell Westbrook yet again manages to rear its head.
“My dad always emphasized growing up that the ball is my only friend,” a defiant Westbrook told Yahoo Sports earlier this season in explaining away just why he plays with such emotion fury and emotion. “After the game we can jump around and all that… but during the game, I’m not going to be joking around with nobody.”
And so it goes, the sins of the father—- or, more to the point the sometime selfish nature— have now been cast upon the son, at least as it pertains to these NBA Finals and the clearly dwindling prospects OKC has of fulfilling its mission.
“He was trying to win it by himself,” said teammate Kendrick Perkins, though he insists he meant it as a compliment to his fearlessly courageous teammate. Even Magic Johnson, arguably the gold standard for all NBA point guards, ripped him earlier in the series for perhaps playing too selfishly, though he too now has taken it all back.
Either way, in Russell Westbrook’s world, all is forgotten if not forgiven, and he figures to take to the court Thursday night in the same medal to pedal way he left it some 48 hours prior.
“Let me get this straight,” Westbrook chided reporters. “What you guys say doesn’t make me happy, make me said, doesn’t do anything. It’s all about my team and us winning a game. I don’t have a personal challenge against you guys, and it’s not me against the world. It’s not the world against me.”
But it well may seem, at least at times, that’s it’s him against all of the Miami Heat in Game 5. Seems it’s the only way he knows.
Glenn Minnis is a veteran sports and culture writer who has contributed to the likes of ESPN, Vibe and the NFL Magazine. He has also been on staff at AOL Sports, the Chicago Tribune and was the founding sports editor for 360HipHop.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.