Hop on the Russell Westbrook rollercoaster, a ride that goes remarkably fast, feels incredibly turbulent and leaves you somewhat conflicted.
You marvel at how Westbrook collects triple-doubles almost by the game as he runs like a track star with unmatched tenacity and competitiveness. But you scratch your head over Westbrook’s inefficient shooting, ineffective defense and sloppy ball handling.
Westbrook fans and critics can agree on one thing, though. He deserves inclusion on the NBA’s top 75 list of greatest players. Westbrook has become the NBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles. Westbrook won the NBA’s regular-season MVP in 2016-17, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season. Westbrook appeared in nine NBA All-Star games and won the MVP award in two of them. Westbrook also collected a gold medal during the 2012 London Olympics.
Westbrook’s excellence is not just measured in statistics or trophies, though. What makes Westbrook great and memorable: The impact he makes on the floor with his relentless competitiveness, freakish athleticism and high-speed motor. Take a look below at a compilation of Westbrook’s top 20 crossovers from his 14-year NBA career. Westbrook’s countless opponents knew what was coming, yet they still could not stop it.
In his first 11 NBA seasons with Oklahoma City, Westbrook appeared in one NBA Finals with Kevin Durant (2012) before he departed for the Golden State Warriors four seasons later. Westbrook stayed in OKC, but never got past the first round of the playoffs for the next three seasons.
Westbrook then morphed from home-grown talent into journeymen with short stints with the Houston Rockets (2019-20), Washington Wizards (2020-21) and the Los Angeles Lakers (present). In all stops, Westbrook positively impacted his team with his fiery competitiveness and work ethic. But those ingredients did not lead to a winning recipe.
Nonetheless, Westbrook deserves more appreciation for what he has accomplished than scorn for his shortcomings.
Westbrook may act prickly toward opponents and reporters. But he has a lighter side and remains utterly devoted to remaining a family man and supporter of his community. The video below captures Westbrook showing his playful side early in his career.
Don’t be mistaken, though. Westbrook still sparked attention among NBA players and fans mostly for the intensity, quickness and athleticism that remains a trademark today. Consider the footage shown in the video below. After Westbrook scored 40 points in his second NBA season during the league’s Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce all talked about Westbrook’s heroics on the team bus.
Westbrook was just getting started. The Thunder appeared in the NBA playoffs as an eighth seed against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
After the Thunder challenged the Lakers to six games, Kobe Bryant predicted to Westbrook, Durant and James Harden that they would cause problems for him later.
It took only two years for Bryant’s prediction to come true. The Thunder eliminated the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals before facing the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Though the Thunder lost to Miami in five games, NBA fans anticipated that Oklahoma City would make many return trips to the NBA Finals.
Take, for example, Westbrook’s interview with longtime broadcaster Ahmad Rashad below during the 2012 NBA playoffs. Westbrook sensed the window of opportunity he had to collect championship hardware.
Little did Westbrook know that season marked his ceiling in OKC. A year later, the Thunder agreed to deal Harden in a sign-and-trade to the Houston Rockets. Five years later, Durant bolted for Golden State and won two NBA titles out of three Finals appearances there.
That marked a stark contrast to what Durant and Westbrook experienced in Oklahoma City when they lost three out of four Western Conference finals appearances.
The Thunder still loved Westbrook, however, for his unyielding competitiveness and loyalty. They tried to reward him with both an extension and more talent (Paul George, Carmelo Anthony). But the Thunder could never advance past the first round following Durant’s departure.
For better and for worse, Westbrook has played his way by his terms. And it seems understandable, at least to a degree, why he would think that way.
When the former Seattle SuperSonics selected Westbrook with the No. 4 pick in 2008 after playing two seasons at UCLA, few envisioned Westbrook would make the impact he did in the NBA. Yet the video below shows Westbrook in his rookie career showing all of the elements that made him a star. Westbrook had nifty footwork, a strong nose for the basket and unmatched confidence.
But to see those highlights and conclude Westbrook would become the NBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles? No way. A handful of NBA legends, including Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd, argued adamantly in the video below that Oscar Robertson would always remain the NBA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles (181).
Westbrook proved them wrong. Not only did Westbrook become one of only two players in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season. Westbrook averaged those numbers in four seasons (2017, 2018, 2019, 2021).
Westbrook also increased his triple-double output from 11 (2014-15) to 18 (2015-16), the most in a single season since Johnson recorded such numbers in 1982. It seems hard enough to compile at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in an entire game. Imagine doing that almost every game. The highlight reel below shows how Westbrook made such a challenging feat appear easy.
Westbrook didn’t collect triple-doubles just by chasing stats. He set the record through sheer will and hustle as he blended his scoring, passing and rebounding skills.
A key ally offered validity to Westbrook’s milestone. Robertson, himself, welcomed Westbrook’s arrival to the club with open arms and offered positive appraisals of Westbrook’s game. Robertson even conducted an in-person interview with Westbrook shortly before he moved his name down in the record books.
Westbrook admitted he did not envision he would cement a lucrative NBA career, let alone play in the league. Once he did, though? Westbrook never lacked confidence.
When asked what he would say if he learned years later he would become the NBA’s all-time triple-doubles leader, Westbrook simply responded, “Why not?” Westbrook likely would answer the same way when asked if he can fill out the rest of his Hall-of-Fame bound career with more milestones and championship hardware.