“I was a champion once I made it to the NBA.”
After a slow start to the season, Russell Westbrook has been on a tear lately. Over his last 20 games, he’s averaging 24.6 points, 11.7 assists and 11.1 rebounds. Over his last three games, he’s averaging a ridiculous 25.6 points, 16.0 rebounds and 15.0 assists. The only other player to have a three-game stretch averaging at least 25, 15 and 15 is Wilt Chamberlain.
On Monday, Westbrook recorded the first 35-point, 20-assist triple double in the history of the NBA. It was a reminder of what Westbrook, even in his current diminished state, is capable of. But for Stephen A. Smith, it was a reminder of what Westbrook hasn’t been capable of: winning a championship.
Appearing on First Take on Tuesday morning, Smith said he doesn’t care about Westbrook’s unprecedented triple double because he’s never won a title.
“Westbrook’s numbers last night mean absolutely nothing to me because, even though that’s great numbers, that’s what Westbrook can do. We all know this,” Smith said. “He’s a former league MVP. He’s the most athletic point guard we have ever seen in NBA history.”
But, Smith said, Westbrook’s teams haven’t won when it counts the most: “It’s the same stuff every year.”
Smith’s argument isn’t worth paying too much attention to. It’s a classic example of the “ringz culture” that places an outsize emphasis on winning championships and diminishes the individual accomplishments of great players who didn’t have the right supporting cast at the right time.
But the comments didn’t sit well with Westbrook (or his wife, Nina). Russ responded to Stephen A.’s criticism after Tuesday night’s loss to the Hornets.
Westbrook mentioned how the narratives constructed by media members can have a profound effect on a player’s career, even when they don’t know much about the player’s life off the court. He also explained that he doesn’t have the same obsession with championships that other observers might. He’s proud of himself for making it out of his old neighborhood and to the NBA, regardless of whether he has lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“That’s how my life’s been since Day 1. I’ve been playing basketball for my whole life. Like my wife mentioned [on Instagram], it’s important that you don’t let people deter you from your goal, deter you from your plan, deter you from the things you have destined in this world. A prime example is I watch these college games and these kids and these announcers, man, they get on the TV and say anything about a kid. They don’t know him, they don’t know his family, they don’t know where he’s from. They don’t know his struggles, they don’t know his pain; they don’t know anything about the kid. But one thing said on TV can determine how you perceive this kid on TV, which will allow him to be able to reach his goals, which will allow him to not be able to get drafted, which will allow him to not take care of his family, which will now not create generational wealth, which now makes our people and the minorities, underserved communities—this is way bigger than basketball.
“I sit back, I don’t say much. I don’t like to go back and forth about people. But one thing I won’t allow to happen anymore is let people create narratives and constantly talking s--- for no reason about me because I lay it on the line every night. And I use my platform to be able to help people all across the world. Nobody can take that away from me. I’ve been blessed to be able to have a platform to do it. A championship won’t change my life. I’m happy. I was a champion once I made it to the NBA. I grew up in the streets. I’m a champion. I don’t have to be an NBA champion.
“My legacy, like I’ve mentioned before, is not based on what I do on this court. I’m not going to play basketball my whole life. My legacy is what I do off the floor, how many people I’m able to impact and inspire along my journey. That’s how I keep my head down and keep it pushing because it’s very important that you don’t let the negativity seep in. It’s been like that my whole career, honestly. There’s no other player that takes heat that I take constantly. But it’s a positive, I’m doing something right if people are talking about me. That’s how I feel and I put my best foot forward, stay prayful [sic], keep my family close and keep it like that.”
Smith’s typical rabble-rousing didn’t merit a response that thoughtful, but I’m glad Westbrook gave it. It’s a far more healthy way to think about a player’s career than how much jewelry they’ve collected.
The best of SI
Inside the secret Gonzaga alumni tradition created by John Stockton that bonds the Zags' past with their present. ... Is Mike Woodson the right guy to lead Indiana basketball back to prominence? ... Sergio Agüero, who will leave Manchester City in the summer, may be the greatest player in the club’s history.
Around the sports world
Michael Strahan closed the gap between his front teeth, but is it an April fools’ joke? ... Iowa star Jordan Bohannon says he will return to the Hawkeyes next season if the state passes its name, image and likeness bill.
Russ also had a vicious dunk
Justin Fields saw Zach Wilson’s viral throw and said, “I can do that”
Bill Belichick isn’t mad; he’s just disappointed
And at 320 pounds, no less
It’s only fitting for baseball teams to be sponsored by loan companies
Houston assistant Alvin Brooks and Baylor assistant Alvin Brooks III will face each other in the NCAA Men's Final Four
I can’t explain why, but 10–7 looks like a worse record than 9–7
Former NFL lineman Orlando Franklin looks like a different person after retirement
Better than a banner
Here is a follow-up to the creepy Raiders/funeral home real estate listing: an interview with the listing agent. ... The Louvre has made its entire collection available online for free. ... A Tokyo man confessed to stealing Pokémon cards after rappelling down the side of a building. ... Game of Thrones is being turned into a Broadway play. ... An elite Australian private school has banned the “untidy, non-conventional” mullet.
Congratulations to Spotify for inventing radio
A good song
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback or follow me on Twitter for approximately one half-decent baseball joke per week. Bookmark this page to see previous editions of Hot Clicks and find the newest edition every day. By popular request I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the music featured here. Visit our Extra Mustard page throughout each day for more offbeat sports stories.