Tables turned, lesson learned, my best look / You jumped sides on me, now you 'bout to meet Westbrook, Kendrick Lamar rapped on "The Heart Part 4."
He had the stage and spotlight to himself, a full shot clock to himself, and—most importantly—a green light to not share with others. But at some point, wouldn't he hit a wall, run out of gas and succumb to the stacked odds?
The past two seasons he has spent showing us why. In his first solo effort, Westbrook claimed MVP honors in becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double, with 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. He spent last season proving he wasn't finished. Westbrook triple-doubled them again, despite splitting shots with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
"I don't like breaks," Westbrook said after Oklahoma City's six-game playoff loss to Utah. "I like to play. I like to play. Breaks—you can break another time. I had a break last summer. Now I've got another one. I'd rather not have breaks."
That sentiment might also explain why Westbrook recently ditched a Hawaii vacation to return to the Oklahoma City area to host a party in anticipation of George's long-term commitment to the Thunder. No breaks.
Whether the secured partnership between Westbrook and George will be enough for the Thunder to do damage in the increasingly difficult Western Conference is debatable. One thing that is for certain: Westbrook will not change, or ease up on the gas. Indeed, his singularity is his most endearing and frustrating trait. It is what has allowed him to stretch the boundaries of what a point guard can accomplish. It is what has made the shoot-first, rebound-first and shoot-again guard one of the NBA's most consistently interesting players to watch. It's no wonder he could just as easily be on the cover of GQ as he could Sports Illustrated.
Who else would use the occasion of a teammate of Durant's caliber aligning himself with a Western Conference juggernaut coming off the best season in NBA history to declare war? Who else would wear this to a game?
In an era when future All-Stars are unearthed in elementary school, it is notable Westbrook built his future MVP campaign from a very different launching point. When he arrived at UCLA, not many knew what was in store. "He really had no profile," Kenny Donaldson, then the men's basketball assistant director of academic services, said. "A lot of guys come here, they're McDonald's All-Americans, city players of the year. He was just this guy that played at Leuzinger [High School]."
Now, after two triple-double seasons, seven All-Star selections, two All-Star Game MVPs, a league MVP and a host of other honors, Westbrook has proved relentlessness pays off. What's more, he has never accepted the idea of a ceiling. Which is why he seems to think he can always improve. On everything.
"[I] always like to put my game into perspective and try to figure out what I can do to be better," Westbrook said. "I say everything all the time because that's truly what I mean, and that's what I have to do because I believe that I'm able to do that. I put pressure on myself every summer to make sure I come back better at something, whether it's leadership—whatever it is, just be better and keep expanding and each year getting better and better."
Jonathan Abrams is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at Grantland and sports reporter at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, Abrams is also the best-selling author of All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire—available right here, right now. Follow him on Twitter: @jpdabrams
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