Russell Westbrook Emerges as Most Entertaining Reality Show of NBA Playoffs

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Russell Westbrook Emerges as Most Entertaining Reality Show of NBA Playoffs
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

OKLAHOMA CITY — More Russell Westbrook, please.

That isn't to say Westbrook necessarily has to do more to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder's season from ending Saturday night. If his absence via knee injury from the playoffs a year ago didn't prove his worth, his presence this year in setting up the offense, scoring in bunches and working so hard on defense against Mike Conley, Chris Paul and now Tony Parker sure has.

The point in asking for more is that if the Thunder's season is ending, whether at home in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals or in San Antonio in Game 7 Monday night, there will be a void left if Westbrook is gone, even as the NBA Finals goes on.

He's that fun to watch.

No one with that athleticism has that motor. Most guys with such superior physical gifts learn along the way that they don't have to go that hard to be the best around. So they reel in the maniacal intensity either to save their energy and effort or because society tends to discourage what seems irregular.

Westbrook has persisted, his drive specifically praised by Kevin Durant in his NBA MVP speech as something he tries to keep up with, and the result is truly unique and captivating. It's even more interesting that Westbrook has to blend it all with Durant's abilities and often cease fire to organize the Thunder offense as the point guard.

At his best, no one delivers excitement, entertainment and effectiveness like Westbrook. And as his brand is starting to get out in the mainstream, even if his passion doesn't quite translate to Subway sandwich ads, someone somewhere needs to sign him to a reality TV show deal. Outlandish wardrobe notwithstanding, he is consistently in character, and it's compelling because he does what he does and he owns it.

Richard Rowe/Getty Images
Though criticized by many for his scoring instincts, Russell Westbrook was praised by Kevin Durant for his willingness to be a partner in the OKC offense.

The most recent visual he has left me with was in the fourth quarter of the Spurs' Game 5 romp, when defeat had set in for Oklahoma City but a frustrated Westbrook still swatted the rosin bottle off the scorer's table and sent it skidding down the court before he went and stood alone, frowning with his hands on his hips.

Even more than his most noticed recent moments, such as the post-three-point-boom strut from Game 4, the merciless dunk over Kawhi Leonard early in Game 5 and the attempt to use Tim Duncan's groin as a stepladder late in Game 5, here are my top five most memorable visuals from my time covering the Thunder the past three weeks…

1. Before play resumes in a second-round game at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers, Westbrook happens to be out on the court before the timeout ends. Icona Pop's 2012 song "I Love It" is still playing on the arena sound system. 

Westbrook sings along, nailing every word, and the lyrics are indeed the sort that would resonate with him:

I got this feeling on the summer day when you were gone.

I crashed my car into the bridge, I watched, I let it burn.

I threw your s--t into a bag and pushed it down the stairs.

I crashed my car into the bridge.

I don't care, I love it.

I don't care.

2. In the Game 2 loss in San Antonio, Westbrook snarls and barks at Durant for over-helping on defense and losing his man.

The snarling and barking at teammates is hardly a onetime occurrence in the past three weeks or past three years, with Serge Ibaka especially seeing and hearing it often. The different thing about Westbrook doing it is that he does not stop when people notice and others would start to feel self-conscious. He just doesn't back off.

Also unusual is that his coach actually appreciates him keeping guys on point, fulfilling a team need: "Those are the type of frustrations that I like in a basketball team," Scott Brooks said.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press/Associated Press
Russell Westbrook's unyielding, physical style of defense on Tony Parker helped the Thunder take Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

3. Westbrook comes out for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals giving the team needed guidance on offense and defense on Tony Parker. He posts no stats early except for two assists to the newly returned Ibaka.

Then, late in the first quarter, Westbrook thinks he is fouled on Manu Ginobili's steal. After pausing to wait for a whistle, an enraged Westbrook aggressively races back, hunts Ginobili down and swings hard at the ball from behind, colliding with him for the personal foul.

Referee Scott Foster comes in to tack a technical foul on for the nature of the play. Westbrook is subbed out and goes and sits alone on the last seat of the bench, fuming. It's the consummate "bad Russ" play where you sense what he might want to do yet he refuses to stop himself.

But that's not where this ends. Late in the second quarter, Westbrook hasn't forgotten. Ginobili hits a three with 35.7 seconds left—and Westbrook hits one with 30.9 seconds left. Ginobili hits another three with 5.9 seconds left—so Westbrook hits another one with 0.6 seconds left.

That emotional wildfire can actually become laser focus.

4. Westbrook is at the Thunder practice facility, answering questions between the Game 3 and 4 victories over the Spurs. The question is posed whether there is some similarity between him and Parker despite their obvious differences. Westbrook's eyes start darting around and narrowing simultaneously.

When a followup question comes about their developments perhaps being similar, Westbrook replies, "I don't think so. Just my opinion. I don't know if they started 3‑29 like we did, so I don't know if that's going to be the same thing. Maybe you can look at it a different way, but I disagree."

Unlike Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose crusty harshness in some interviews belies warmth underneath that can be earned, Westbrook is 25, impatient and emotional. It's all out there, no nuance.

His words are so often spoken with that chip on the shoulder, indignant and proud—in this case proud of the pain of his 3-29 start as a rookie (with the 29th loss because of his late-game turnovers) five-and-a-half years ago. The champion Frenchman never endured that, and you can see how Westbrook truly feeds off adversity in a way that few do.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Russell Westbrook has gained a reputation in the NBA for his unique style choices.

5. As Westbrook is dressing at his home locker between Durant and Derek Fisher's after a Game 4 victory, there is a black sleeve over his right knee.

Soon enough, he pulls on the black pants that, of course, aren't just black pants but tapered just right with carefully placed open-flap tears high up on both thighs. Not that anyone will notice the pants under the bright, flowery jacket akin to something from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

But using any type of treatment under street clothes is uncommon for NBA players, and Westbrook's knee sleeve is a reminder of how much he has been through in the past year. The first surgery on the knee came in April, the second in October, the third in December.

And here he is, going a million miles an hour, burning for more and more and more.

He's one special dude.

 

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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