Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 30 May 2020

Russell Westbrook still deserves to be MVP, even with OKC’s miserable postseason

Russell Westbrook made the entire regular season worth it.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook was the first NBA player since 1962 to average double digits in points, rebounds and assists in the same season. David J Phillip / AP Photo
Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook was the first NBA player since 1962 to average double digits in points, rebounds and assists in the same season. David J Phillip / AP Photo

For many NBA critics, the league is too top-heavy, with only a handful of teams truly able to win the title each year. Why bother even rooting for the Orlando Magic? What’s the point?

For others, they bemoan how only two months out of an eight-month season matters. Why are you watching a meaningless NBA game when a college football bowl game is on?

Fair points. There can be little to invest in during the November-to-April slog of basketball when your rooting interest lies outside of Golden State or Cleveland.

Maybe rooting for the Orlando Magic or any of the other 20-plus also-rans is a fool’s errand. Maybe nothing in life matters and the sun is going to swallow us all whole one day anyway, so why spend a January night watching a battle for second place in the Southwest Division?

Counter-argument: Russell Westbrook.

The likely MVP was run right out of the play-offs in five measly games by his likely MVP runner-up. That will be all the ammo his (many) detractors need – the supposed best player of the season made nary a dent in the title picture. What was even the point of all those triple-doubles, and what was all the fuss over who should win the MVP? James Harden and the Rockets beat Westbrook and the Thunder handily. Anyone who voted for Westbrook over Harden has been proven wrong, right?

Nah. The November-to-April slog this year was pretty fun, and mostly because of Russell Westbrook. Watching mid-winter NBA was often the best television in the world this year, mostly because of Russell Westbrook.

The MVP is a regular-season award, for better or worse, and the votes were submitted before the play-offs started. But even if votes were held until after another Golden State title in June, the MVP should still be Westbrook. He not only made the Thunder at least somewhat relevant after watching Kevin Durant walk away to an easier title opportunity, Westbrook made the entire regular season worth it.

Because of game-winning plays like this in one of those meaningless November games ...

Because of moments like this throwback in the All-Star game (in which he scored 41 points with seven three-pointers) ...

Because of his ridiculous obsession with fashion that made TV events out of mere pre-game walks to the locker room ...

Because of the record number of triple-doubles, and how OKC needed every one of them ...

NBA fans witnessed history this season. Even those poor, utterly hopeless Orlando Magic fans could have put bias aside and rooted for greatness because it was happening on a near-nightly basis. The NBA is stupid-full of historically talented players right now, and Westbrook stood above them all.

If the only purpose you derive out of a sporting season is espousing the logo on the jerseys that eventually hold up the championship while shunning all the rest, that’s fine. People remember the champions. Every player wants to be a champion.

For the rest of us – the many, many fans of the teams that will never be champions – there’s the rare season like Westbrook’s, when an iconoclast and all-world athlete plays so angry and so hard every single November-to-April-or-whenever night and cares as much as you do. That his stats were all-time eye-popping to match that effort made it even cooler.

Even though his season is over while the title chase goes on without him, the NBA belonged to Westbrook this year. The MVP is the least we could give him.

kjeffers@thenational.ae

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Updated: April 26, 2017 04:00 AM

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