Surely by now you’ve heard that tonight’s Golden State Warriors game has higher stakes than every other November game in modern history.
How could it not? It has all the elements of a captivating sports soap opera.
A spurned teammate who’s in the midst of a hero quest for revenge? Check.
A plucky community banding together to overcome the pompous, well-heeled metropolis? Sure.
A power-hungry antagonist? Come on, there’s only one narrative that reigns in the NBA these days: The Dubs are the NBA’s super villains, pursuing a title by any means necessary.
The only problem is that Kevin Durant — the impetus for a good portion of the negative feelings directed at the Bay — doesn’t see it this way at all.
“Once it tips off, it’ll be just another basketball game,” he said at shootaround on Thursday, reverting to his comfort zone of downplaying almost anything.
Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook, a beloved character for his hyper play and self-assured nature that would fit much better in Hollywood than the rural southwest, revels in the narrative.
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) November 4, 2016
Westbrook arrived at Oracle Arena on Thursday in an official photographer’s vest, which many have taken as a slight to Durant, who lists photography as one of his favorite hobbies after shooting the Super Bowl in Santa Clara earlier this year.
Here’s how he explained that experience to reporters while he still played for the Thunder:
No words… pic.twitter.com/UMU9efwUKt
— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) November 4, 2016
Westbrook’s coach, Billy Donovan, downplayed the subtext of Westbrook’s demeanor and dress before the game, saying he rarely sees the frenetic point guard actually enter the building. Even Westbrook refuses to explicitly say what message he was sending, telling Fred Katz, “There’s no particular reason, there’s no story behind it.”
(Russ has never been one to give the media much to work with. As one Oklahoma sportswriter told me during the Western Conference Finals last year that he only continues to ask Westbrook questions so he can tell his bosses he at least tried.)
I say, thank god for Westbrook. Someone needs to lean into this rivalry, that despite most of those involved being reluctant to acknowledge, is undoubtedly there.
Thursday’s game is just an early chapter, a stage setter for what’s to come. Climaxes don’t come in the early weeks of the season, after all.
Westbrook has been sensational in the early going (averaging 37.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10 assists per game and a 5-0 record).
“It’s his basketball now,” Steve Kerr said. “It is. He shared it with KD in the past, but it’s his team now.”
One can only hope that Westbrook is able to keep up his incredible production, because one of these teams has the potential to miss the playoffs.
And how disappointed America would be if that came to fruition.
We, as fans of the game, need this battle in the playoffs. Because trolling in November is one thing. Winning games against a superteam that is allegedly ruining any semblance of competitive balance in the league, now that’d be something Westbrook could use to build an unassailable legacy on.
Russell Westbrook wraps up his pregame shooting as he always does: pic.twitter.com/tLGIjZBmzW
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) November 4, 2016